SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration today for failing to prevent livestock from damaging southwestern rivers and streams.
The waterways are home to numerous endangered and threatened species: southwestern willow flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, Gila chub, loach minnow and spikedace fish, Chiricahua leopard frogs, and narrow-headed and northern Mexican garter snakes.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson, says the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing cows to trample rivers and streams on more than 30 grazing allotments in the upper Gila River watershed on Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
Recent surveys by the Center found severe cattle damage on all major waterways in both national forests, resulting in widespread degradation of streamside forest habitat and water quality, and imperiling several rare species.
“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to keep livestock from trampling these fragile southwestern rivers, but the Forest Service has turned a blind eye,” said Brian Segee, an attorney at the Center. “We found cows, manure and flattened streambanks along nearly every mile of the waterways we surveyed. We hope this case will get cattle off these streams and renew the agency’s commitment to protecting endangered wildlife and our spectacular public lands.”
The rivers covered by the suit include the Gila, San Francisco, Tularosa and Blue rivers. In a historic 1998 legal settlement with the Center, the Forest Service agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from hundreds of miles of southwestern streamside habitats while it conducted a long-overdue consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of grazing on threatened and endangered species.
That effort and subsequent consultations have repeatedly confirmed that livestock grazing in arid southwestern landscapes destroys riparian habitat and imperils native fish, birds and other animals dependent on that habitat.
Poorly managed livestock grazing, persistent drought, dewatering, global warming and invasive species have taken an increasing toll on southwestern rivers. This has resulted in the recent federal protection of several additional threatened or endangered species that depend on southwestern riparian areas, including two species of garter snake, the cuckoo and the leopard frog.
These impacts, as well as the looming threat of a major diversion project, led American Rivers to name the Gila the nation’s most endangered river in 2019.