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WildEarth Guardians Pushes Feds to Consider Impacts from Grazing to 520 Miles of Critical Fish Habitat

April 24, 2007
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Rivers, Wildlife  
#EndangeredSpeciesAct, #GreaterGila, #WildlandsForWildlife
Santa Fe, NM – Southwest conservation group, WildEarth Guardians, put the federal government on notice yesterday that it intends to sue if public lands livestock grazing is not soon examined on over 520 miles of critical habitat for two protected fishes. The critical habitat designation took effect just days ago, but the group is adamant about quickly curtailing destructive land use practices that have robbed the spikedace and loach minnow of healthy waters for decades.

These two fishes used to swim throughout the Gila River system spanning into Mexico. Today, human-caused habitat modification has limited the species to a handful of counties north of the border. Because the spikedace and loach minnow have lost almost 90% of their waters, the Fish and Wildlife Service has attempted to provide the fishes with critical habitat protections twice in the past. Both attempts were shot down in court by the livestock industry.

Because the government has named livestock grazing as a predominant threat to the loach minnow and spikedace, grazing practices will have to change in places where critical habitat has been designated. The legal effect of the designation is to require federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service whenever they undertake activities on land containing critical habitat, and to alter the ways in which those activities are carried out if they pose a further threat of harm to the species.

The Forest Service manages hundreds of grazing allotments in the Southwest. WildEarth Guardians says the Forest Service is violating the Endangered Species Act unless and until it consults with the Fish and Wildlife Service as to how its grazing management practices are adversely modifying the fishes’ critical habitat. The group has given the government 60 days to consult before it will file suit in federal court.

WildEarth Guardians hopes that its notice will prompt the government to take immediate action to secure these 520 miles of rivers and streams from destructive cattle grazing. “These fishes have been listed as threatened for over 20 years with no safe haven from stream impairment and water pollution,” says Melissa Hailey, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “We are thankful that these species now have critical habitat, and we want to make sure that habitat becomes meaningful as soon as possible.”

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 in the southwest.