The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has told the federal Bureau of Land Management that cattle must be removed soon from rivers and streams on 15 southeastern grazing allotments in Arizona.
The Fish and Wildlife order, contained
in a biological opinion, was spurred by a lawsuit filed in Tucson
federal court last year by the Tucson-based Southwest Center for
Biological Diversity. The suit said the Fish and Wildlife Service
and the BLM failed to adequately study grazing's effects on
endangered species on nearly 300 BLM allotments covering 1.5
million acres, from Tucson east to the New Mexico
The court ordered further consultation
between the two agencies, resulting in the biological opinion
released last month. The Fish and Wildlife Service said cows had to
be removed to protect 15 endangered birds, fish and plants.
Although the BLM rated riparian areas in good condition on nine of
the 15 allotments, Fish and Wildlife biologists said that cattle
might damage endangered fish and plants on all 15 by trampling on
The order represents the
first time in recent memory that a federal agency has ordered
cattle off a large number of riparian areas. Last spring, the
Forest Service had rancher Kit Laney remove 1,200 head of cattle
from the troubled Diamond Bar allotment that straddles numerous
streams near Silver City, N.M.
have 75 days to appeal once the order is formally given, Clifton,
Ariz.-area rancher Jeff Menges says he's angry about the
Since 1979, he has managed two
allotments along the Gila and San Francisco rivers, including part
of the BLM's Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area. Since
1990, he said, he and the BLM put up enough fence to keep his 305
cattle from grazing along the rivers except in the
The Fish and Wildlife biological
opinion, however, said that more than four miles of riparian area
on the Gila Box allotment are at risk or in unknown condition.
Menges said he's seen small cottonwoods and willows slowly
returning to those areas since he switched to winter grazing. One
mile of the Gila on the allotment is listed in proper functioning
condition in the opinion, and Menges is convinced that other
stretches will recover as well.
"We worked pretty
hard to keep cattle out, so we could have the reward of grazing in
the winter," " Menges said. "Now, we've switched from an incentives
and reward system to a command and control system. The burden will
lie on me to maintain the fences to keep the cattle out. It will be
an economic hardship with no reward at all." "
other allotments, the Wildlife Service opinion requires less
stringent measures. They include giving the BLM the option to
remove cattle, restrict grazing to winter months, and monitor
livestock watering tanks for the presence of non-native fish that
could outcompete endangered native fish.
opinion and its order to remove cows marks a second major victory
this year for the Southwest Center. During the summer, it won a
federal Court of Appeals ruling ordering the Forest Service to make
sure that grazing on its land in the Southwest doesn't violate its
guidelines and standards.
Still, the Center isn't
celebrating. It contends that the Fish and Wildlife Service should
have ordered cattle off riparian areas in far more allotments,
perhaps more than 100. In letters to Fish and Wildlife, the Center
contended that the agency failed to look at grazing's effects on
numerous other endangered species, including the bald eagle, the
aplomado falcon, the jaguar and the lesser long-nosed bat, and had
inaccurately concluded that grazing was not likely to affect those
The Center pointed out that
the Fish and Wildlife Service's analysis on the flycatcher, for
instance, stated that riparian areas were at risk or in bad shape
on 21 stretches of rivers on 19 grazing allotments, and that the
condition of rivers and streams is unknown on 25 other allotments.
Yet the service ordered no permanent cattle removals to protect the
flycatcher; it said that cattle should stay off riparian areas
during breeding season, when cattle are most likely to eat from
trees and shrubs.
David Hogan, the Center's
rivers coordinator, is careful not to give the Fish and Wildlife
Service too much credit for its opinion. "When you do nothing to
protect endangered species for years," he said, "the second you do
anything, it becomes a historic moment. The reality of this
decision is that it does not provide for the survival and recovery
of endangered species. This biological opinion is a Band-Aid over a
gaping grazing wound."
BLM officials aren't
happy either; they said they'd been trying to work cooperatively
with ranchers and in consultations with the Fish and Wildlife
Service to gradually improve riparian areas. Now, they'll have to
start dealing with the cumbersome process of getting the cows off.
They'll be issuing cattle removal orders to the ranchers within two
months. Ranchers will have 75 days from then to appeal or remove
"We're not managing. We don't have
the time to work with permittees and do an on-the-ground solution,"
" said Clay Templin, a BLM range management specialist in Safford.
"What we're getting into now, everything turns more into a
confrontational standpoint. We're working on interrogatories and
Tony Davis writes for
the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.