Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 17, 2019


Brian Segee (805) 750-8852,

Lawsuit Launched to Force Forest Service to Protect Endangered Species, Remove Livestock From Arizona, New Mexico Waterways

Surveys Show Widespread Habitat Damage Despite Federal Commitment

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service for allowing livestock to trample southwestern rivers and streams, which destroys wildlife habitat and threatens rare species. The grazing violates the Endangered Species Act and an earlier legal settlement.

Today’s notice says the Forest Service has violated its longstanding commitment to keep cows away from rivers and streams in the upper Gila River watershed in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. Recent surveys by the Center found widespread evidence of cattle damage on all major waterways in both national forests.

“The Forest Service has completely abdicated its legal responsibility to protect these fragile waterways and the wildlife around them,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We found cows, trampled streambanks and water polluted with feces on nearly every mile of stream we surveyed. The Forest Service is failing to protect endangered animals that rely on these rivers and streams for their survival. We’re hopeful a court will force it to take immediate action.”

The rivers covered by the suit include the Gila, San Francisco, Tularosa and Blue rivers. These waterways are home to numerous threatened and endangered species, including Southwestern willow flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, loach minnow fish, Chiricahua leopard frogs and northern Mexican garter snakes.

In 1998 the Center reached a historic legal settlement with the Forest Service in which the agency agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from hundreds of miles of southwestern streamside habitats while it conducted a long-overdue consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of grazing on threatened and endangered species.

That consultation confirmed that livestock grazing in arid southwestern landscapes destroys riparian habitat.

“The legality of the Forest Service’s southwestern grazing program is built on the assumption that streams and rivers are kept cow-free. Our surveys show this foundation is rotten,” said Segee. “The Forest Service is falling far short of its legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act. It’s failing as a steward of the Gila and other Southwest rivers and streams that are important to people and wildlife alike.”

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 listing of several additional threatened or endangered species that depend on southwestern riparian areas, including two species of garter snake, the cuckoo and Chiricahua leopard frogs.

These impacts and the looming threat of a major diversion project led American Rivers to name the Gila the nation’s most endangered river in 2019.

San Francisco River, Gila National Forest
Years of streamside grazing by trespass cattle have killed vegetation and critical riparian habitat along the San Francisco River in the Gila National Forest. Photo by Center for Biological Diversity Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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