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WildEarth Guardians Awarded State Land Grazing Lease; Group Vows to ‘Unranch’ Lands, Restore Degraded Babocamari River

May 20, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Public Lands  
Phoenix, AZ – After nearly six years of legal and administrative battles, WildEarth Guardians has been awarded a lease to a 162-acre parcel of state school trust land near Elgin, in southeastern Arizona. The State Land Department awarded the lease on May 16, 2003 after WildEarth Guardians offered $84.40 per animal unit month (AUM), or approximately $2,000 per year, nearly twice the amount offered by the rancher, Ethlyn Telles, who formerly held the lease.

WildEarth Guardians vowed to exclude cattle and begin the process of restoring the once lush, but now endangered cottonwood-willow forest along the severely degraded Babocamari River, as soon as the lease is signed, likely within the next 30 days. The ruling, issued May 16, 2003 by Land Commissioner Mark Winkleman, represents the first time that an environmental group has acquired a grazing lease to state school trust lands.

“We’re ecstatic about winning this lease. This is an historic ruling that signals the end of the livestock industry’s monopoly over state school trust lands, ” said WildEarth Guardians Executive Director John Horning. “Now we have our work cut out for us trying to restore an area that has been degraded for more than a century by cattle grazing.”

The final ruling did not come without some last minute drama, when the rancher who previously held the lease tried to change her bid to exceed WildEarth Guardians’ bid by a mere two dollars. Thankfully, the State Land Department ruled that the attempt was invalid since it had been submitted with the knowledge of WildEarth Guardians bid amount.

The groups hailed the decision saying it signals the end of an archaic and illegal policy that provided the livestock industry with exclusive control of Arizona state lands. “Arizona’s school children and sensitive ecosystems will both be enhanced by the Land Department’s ruling” said Tim Hogan, Director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which has represented WildEarth Guardians since 1997. “This has been a long hard fought victory,” he added.

“We’ve been fighting for almost six years to acquire this unique, but ecologically threatened stream ecosystem,” said Horning, who noted that the parties still must resolve how much payment to provide for existing improvements on the parcel. “Streams are the arteries of life in the arid Southwest, but they’ve been clogged with cattle for a century or more, degrading wildlife habitat, polluting streams and reducing recreational opportunities,” he added.