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Groups send notice of intent to sue Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Renegade Rancher: Livestock still on forest…
New Mexico Wildlife Federation, the Arizona Wildlife Federation and the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility joined WildEarth Guardians in the letter, which outlines how despite canceling the permit and “monitoring” the situation, the Forest Service has taken no action to actually remove the trespassing cattle or to take legal action against the ranchers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also noticed in the letter as they were informed about the trespass cattle and resulting damage to the habitat of the federally threatened Chiricahua leopard frog, loach minnow, and spikedace, but have also failed to take any action against the owners of the livestock.
The failure to the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act violates the basic tenet of the Endangered Species Act, discussed in its introduction: “It is further declared to be the policy of Congress that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species and utilize their authority in furtherance of the purposes of this chapter.”
Forest Service records show that among other violations, Abelardo Martinez failed to pay his grazing fees, failed to maintain fences, and failed to fix a broken section of fence that allowed his cattle to trespass onto a neighboring Hickey allotment. Salt blocks were also placed on the Hickey allotment to encourage cattle to further trespass onto that allotment. In addition, Martinez and his son Dan also allowed their cattle to graze in pastures that were closed to cattle grazing in order to protect streams and stock ponds that provide habitat for the Chiricahua leopard frog, spikedace and loach minnow, species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
On August 31, 2004, Frank Hayes, the Clifton District Ranger of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, cancelled Martinez’s grazing permit and ordered him to remove his cattle from National Forest lands within thirty days. He writes, “It is essential that your livestock be removed from National Forest System Land as soon as possible in order to limit resource damage to threatened and endangered species habitat. All livestock must be removed from the Pleasant Valley Allotment, the Hickey Allotment and any other National Forest System Land where your livestock may be located within 30 days from the date of this letter. This 30 day period is intended to allow a reasonable amount of time for removal of livestock. Any livestock left on National Forest System Land following the 30-day period will be subject to impoundment.”
Despite the order to remove their cattle from Forest Service lands, Abe and Dan Martinez have failed to remove their livestock months after being ordered to do so. On October 14, District Ranger Hayes issued a “Notice of Intent to Impound Unauthorized Livestock,” but to date the Forest Service has failed to take action on the notice. On October 18, 2004, the four conservation groups sent a letter to Ranger Hayes asking him to “present an expeditious and clear plan for remedying the severe damage that has occurred as a result of your inaction and the illegal grazing that has taken place over the last two years.” After patiently waiting six months for further action, the groups are now sending notice to push the agencies into taking action. In July, the groups may also file suit after the required 60-day waiting period.
“No landlord would wait two years before evicting a tenant who failed to sign their lease, pay their rent and was vandalizing their property, said Billy Stern, Grazing Reform Program Coordinator for WildEarth Guardians. “The Forest Service should take immediate action to impound the cattle and prevent these renegade ranchers from causing further damage.”
“We are tired of hearing the age old excuse that the Forest Service doesn’t have the resources to get the job done,” said Oscar Simpson of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “The real problem is the Forest Service’s cavalier attitude of allowing cattle grazing, even when it is illegal and they know it will cause damage.”
“The Forest Service puts little emphasis on the economics of cattle grazing,” said Leon Fager with Southwest PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility). “The American taxpayer is supporting a handful of ranchers with Forest Service grazing permits, which are actually one of the major sources of damage and degradation to public lands.”
“We have a responsibility to protect southwest lands and the rare creatures that live here,” said John Horning, director of Forest Guardians. “The failure of the Bush administration to take action against these clear violations continues a pattern of failing to protect endangered wildlife on our public lands and instead allowing the livestock industry to trample our waters and wildlife. They claim the Endangered Species Act is ‘broken’ but the real issue is lack of enforcement.”
WildEarth Guardians, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the Arizona Wildlife Federation represent more than 20,000 residents of the Southwest who believe public lands should be managed primarily for the protection of fish and wildlife.