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Group Threatens Lawsuit Claiming Grazing on Southwestern National Forests Threatens Wildlife

January 16, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Public Lands  
Santa Fe, NM – The U.S. Forest Service is violating the Endangered Species Act by permitting livestock grazing on millions of acres of allotments in southwestern national forests, according to a notice of intent to sue filed Wednesday by WildEarth Guardians. The 60-day notice warns the Forest Service that it has failed to adequately consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on hundreds of allotments on the eleven national forests throughout New Mexico and Arizona over the past seven years.

The pending lawsuit seeks to apply precedent from a recent ruling, in which federal Judge Christina Armijo held that the Forest Service must consult over the entire ten-year term of grazing permits to comply with the mandate of the Endangered Species Act and fully evaluate the impacts of grazing on threatened and endangered species. Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act and its implementing regulations require that agencies consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service whenever they undertake activities that may affect threatened and endangered species. In her December 31, 2002 ruling, Judge Armijo held that the Forest Service failed to comply with the ESA by merely consulting on a three-year term. Analyzing the effects of grazing for ten years, the length of a term grazing permit, rather than three years, is much more likely to demonstrate the long-term detrimental impacts of grazing on native wildlife, plants, and streams.

If the forthcoming lawsuit is successful, the Forest Service will have to initiate consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service over the effects of grazing on various federally listed species on 400 allotments throughout more than 9 million of acres of national forest lands. There are numerous species listed pursuant to the Endangered Species Act, some of which have designated critical habitat, that WildEarth Guardians claims are adversely affected by the decision on the part of the Forest Service not to consult over the entire term of a ten-year permit. These species include, but are not limited to, the Gila topminnow, Cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, Bald eagle, Mexican spotted owl, Whooping Crane, Jaguar, Mexican long-nosed bat, Lesser long-nosed bat, and the Arizona hedgehog cactus.

“Blindly permitting livestock grazing without fully assessing its impacts on endangered and threatened species is absolutely intolerable,” said Laurie Fulkerson, WildEarth Guardians’ Grazing Program Coordinator. “The purpose of the ESA consultation requirement is to protect endangered wildlife and the aim of this lawsuit is to force the Forest Service to do just that.”

WildEarth Guardians has brought a series of lawsuits with the goal of protecting native wildlife and the ecosystems they inhabit from the detrimental impacts of livestock grazing. To date, the group has won important protections for many of the species dependent on healthy ecosystems on National Forests, such as reducing the number of cattle that can graze in key sensitive habitats and barring cattle from a number of streams and rivers throughout the southwest. The group argues that the continued presence of livestock on public lands is fundamentally incompatible with restoring the balance of nature on many ecologically sensitive public lands.

Go Here for a Copy of the Notice of Intent to Sue [PDF].