For Immediate Release, October 7, 2021


Chris Bugbee, Center for Biological Diversity, (305) 498-9112,
Mark Larson, Maricopa Audubon Society, (480) 310-3261,

Lawsuit Seeks to Protect National Conservation Area in Arizona From Destructive Cattle Grazing

TUCSON, Ariz.― The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service today to force them to protect critical habitat for threatened and endangered species in the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona.

Field surveys by the Center documented extensive cattle grazing damage in this protected area, which is a haven for birds, fish and other wildlife.

“It’s disturbing to see a true desert oasis trampled by cattle and littered with feces,” said Chris Bugbee, Southwest advocate at the Center. “What’s supposed to be protected as a national conservation area looks more like a feedlot. This senseless destruction has to be fixed right away, before we lose more animals to extinction.”

Earlier this year the Center documented widespread livestock damage along the Gila and San Francisco rivers, Bonita Creek and adjoining streams that meander through the area, which is designated critical habitat for threatened yellow-billed cuckoos. More than 32 river miles were surveyed, and most of them had significant damage from cows, which are supposed to be excluded from the area because of its federal protection.

The Gila Box is also important to other endangered species, including the Gila chub, Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, loach minnow and spikedace. The BLM describes the area as a “year-round desert oasis” and “a very special riparian ecosystem abounding with plant and animal diversity.”

“The BLM can wax poetic on its website, but in reality the agency has handed over this wild and beautiful place to local ranchers and their cows,” said Mark Larson, Maricopa Audubon president. “We’re in an extinction crisis and it’s heartbreaking to see this critical haven for songbirds and other endangered species be abandoned by the agencies we trust to protect it.”

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

The Gila Box, which includes 23,000 acres of public lands, is famous for its riparian ecosystem and 1,000-foot-high cliffs towering above the Gila River. Bonita Creek, which meets the Gila River in the conservation area, is renowned as a refuge for vanishing native fish. The area is also a popular boating and birdwatching destination with more than 200 bird species.

Cows along Bonita Creek on the Johnny Creek Allotment. 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.