Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 17, 2020


Robin Silver, (602) 799-3275,
Brian Segee, (805) 750-8852,

Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Arizona’s Verde River From Ravages of Illegal Grazing

PHOENIX― The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon sued the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to stop widespread damage from cattle grazing along the Verde River, its tributaries and streambanks.

Today’s lawsuit says the agencies have violated federal laws by failing to stop grazing along Arizona’s two “wild and scenic rivers.” A Center report released earlier this year showed that cows were trampling on, and defecating in, the streams and riparian areas, with damage found on three-fourths of the 143 stream miles surveyed.

“The Forest Service refuses to do its job, and the ranchers know they’ll suffer no penalties,” said Robin Silver, cofounder of the Center. “The Verde and its wildlife have been abandoned by the people who are supposed to be protecting them. We hope the courts will save these spectacular waterways and the plants and animals that depend on them to survive.”

Federal law requires the Forest Service to prevent grazing in riparian areas. Grazing permit holders are required under law and contracts to maintain their fences and keep their cows out of the riparian areas of the Verde, Fossil Creek and other central Arizona waterways, where thousands of people come to boat, swim, birdwatch, hike and camp.

The Center’s report, based on months of field surveys, confirmed that hundreds of cows are destroying crucial habitat for 14 threatened or endangered species. These endangered fish, birds and reptiles rely on healthy, lush riparian areas for their survival along the Verde River and its tributary streams.

“Arizonans would be appalled to see the damage cattle are doing to these fragile waterways,” Silver said. “Grazing is a privilege, not a right. These ranchers should lose their permits for ignoring the law and destroying our public lands. Sadly, Forest Service officials aren’t doing their jobs, so we’re suing them to protect threatened animals and their beautiful streamside habitats.”

Poorly managed livestock grazing, persistent drought, dewatering, global warming and invasive species have taken an increasing toll on southwestern rivers, including the 170-mile long Verde. 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 snakes, yellow-billed cuckoos and Chiricahua leopard frogs, under the Endangered Species Act.

In 1998 the Center reached a historic legal agreement with the Forest Service in which the agency agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from hundreds of miles of riparian habitats, including the Verde River watershed, while it conducted a long-overdue consultation with Fish and Wildlife Service on grazing’s impacts on threatened and endangered species. The consultation confirmed that grazing in arid southwestern landscapes destroys riparian habitat.

Years of illegal cattle grazing have destroyed vegetation and critical riparian habitat along Red Creek, a tributary of the Verde River. Photo credit: Center for Biological Diversity. Images are available for media use.

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

center locations