Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 28, 2023


Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 799-3275,
Charles Babbitt, Maricopa Audubon Society, (602) 617-1990,

Lawsuit Challenges National Forest Policies Favoring Cows Over Endangered Species in Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon sued the U.S. Forest Service today to challenge policies that protect cattle grazing at the expense of endangered species and native wildlife dependent on fragile streams in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona.

Today’s lawsuit also includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose administrators recently approved the grazing policies over the objections of their own scientists.

Field surveys by the Center have documented extensive damage from cattle grazing in the Coronado National Forest’s streamside habitats, including designated critical habitat for threatened yellow-billed cuckoos and other rare wildlife.

“We surveyed 114 miles of streams in the Coronado and found that very few young trees essential to stream health and wildlife remained because of widespread destructive cattle grazing,” said Robin Silver, a Center cofounder. “This is extremely harmful to these fragile watersheds and the endangered species that depend on them. The Forest Service’s grazing management scheme benefits cows, but it’s clearly not working for endangered wildlife.”

Today’s lawsuit says widespread cattle destruction of designated riparian critical habitat in the Coronado is being promoted and perpetuated by a management scheme that uses grazing metrics instead of fencing, as other forests do, to keep cows away from streams. This practice has failed to protect threatened and endangered species, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s wrong that the Forest Service favors cows over the health of our desert streams and endangered songbirds, who will edge closer to extinction without these critical habitats,” said Charles Babbitt, Maricopa Audubon president. “We know cattle grazing amplifies the harms of climate change and drought, and it’s the one piece we can control.”

The Forest Service policies conflict with recommendations from endangered species experts with the Fish and Wildlife Service, who have recommended no grazing in riparian habitats where cuckoos breed.

“We cannot control climate change, but we can control livestock impacts from grazing, trampling, erosion, and soil compaction,” one scientist wrote.

In 2020 and 2021, the Center’s surveys of designated riparian critical habitat on the Coronado National Forest found nearly three-fourths of the 114 miles with significant or moderate harm from cattle grazing.

The Coronado National Forest is divided into five ranger districts, each containing multiple sky island mountain ranges. More than 400 species of birds can be found in these sky islands, including species found nowhere else in the United States.

Other threatened and endangered species in the area include northern Mexican garter snakes, Chiricahua leopard frogs, Sonoran tiger salamanders, Gila topminnow and Sonora chub.

In the desert Southwest, livestock grazing harms threatened and endangered wildlife and is the primary driver of riparian ecosystem degradation. Removal of livestock from riparian areas is a critical component of adaptation to climate change.

RSGrazed_riparian_area_Coronado_Center_for_Biological_Diversity_FPWC. (4)-scr
Cow grazes in yellow-billed cuckoo riparian critical habitat, Coronado National Forest. Photo credit, Center for Biological Diversity. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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