Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 9, 2022


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

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Endangered Species From Cattle Grazing in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon filed a notice today of their intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their repeated failure to control cows illegally grazing in endangered species critical habitat, primarily along the Salt River and its tributaries.

“It’s pathetic that we need to keep suing federal officials to force them to do their jobs protecting public lands instead of ranchers,” said Center cofounder Robin Silver. “The rivers and streams on the Tonto National Forest are clearly designated endangered species critical habitat, but Forest Service officials continue to look the other way as ranchers continue cheating and imperiled animals dependent on these steams continue disappearing.”

Today's notice follows the Center’s 2020 report and lawsuit and resulting 2021 legal agreement protecting the Verde River from cattle grazing. It aims to protect critical habitat for many threatened and endangered species, including yellow-billed cuckoos, southwestern willow flycatchers, Chiricahua leopard frogs, northern Mexican garter snakes, narrow-headed garter snakes, spikedace, razorback suckers and Gila chub.

“We’ll keep doing everything we can to stop the Forest Service’s promotion of cow-ranching abuse of our rivers and streams,” said Maricopa Audubon Conservation Chair Charles Babbitt. “There’s no place for cows anywhere along our desert waterways. They’re too destructive and they’re causing endangered plants and animals, especially songbirds, to disappear.”

The Forest Service had agreed to monitor riparian areas, maintain and repair fencing, and remove trespass cattle when they’re detected by the agency, the Center, or the public. The agency also pledged to devise ways to address invasive species and other conservation challenges facing imperiled southwestern species. That agreement came more than 20 years after federal agencies first promised to keep cows off these riparian habitats to safeguard rare plants and animals.

In a 1998 legal agreement with the Center, the Forest Service agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from these and other 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.

Beginning in 2019 Center staff and contractors conducted surveys that found widespread, severe cattle damage — including manure and flattened streambanks — on the Verde River, a tributary of the Salt River, and its tributaries in the Tonto, Coconino and Prescott national forests, imperiling several rare species.

From September 2020 to March 2022, the Center surveyed new areas and again found widespread, severe cow grazing damage. These findings are the basis for today's filing.

Documented cow grazing damage in Tonto National Forest. Credit: Center for Biological Diversity Map 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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