No one did backflips when a federal judge ruled in January that the Forest Service's environmental analysis of a grazing allotment on Arizona's Tonto National Forest was inadequate. After all, it was a procedural victory and might not protect even one blade of grass.
But for Michael
Seidman, the decision was a hard-earned victory. It vindicated his
belief that the Forest Service's top priority for public lands
should not be cattle grazing.
Seidman, a Phoenix
zookeeper, had worked evenings and weekends for nearly five years
to watch-dog the Pole Hollow allotment. A former philosophy major
with a passion for plants and animals, he had no background in
public-lands issues and had to teach himself the ropes as he went
"It's a long, slow process," says
Seidman. "That's why you don't get many grazing activists who get
that deeply involved."
Seidman, 51, was familiar
with the chaparral-covered landscape of Pole Hollow well before he
learned about the Forest Service's management practices there. He
had hiked through the 30,000-acre allotment tucked in the Mazatzal
Mountains of central Arizona, becoming familiar with its
piûons, junipers and Arizona cypress trees. But it wasn't
until it became a potential site for restoring Mexican wolves that
his interest became political.
with Mexican wolves at the zoo, and was eager to help the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service re-establish a wild population. Federal
officials eventually eliminated Pole Hollow as a home for the
wolves, but by then Seidman had become as rooted in the allotment
as the cypress trees that he loves. He kept tracking the agency's
management plans for the area.
discovered a 1987 range analysis revealing that 96.9 percent of the
allotment was in "poor" or "very poor" condition. The Forest
Service responded by reducing the number of cattle in the allotment
by 39 percent to 150 cows, but Seidman believed this wouldn't help.
To maintain this number the agency had to concentrate cows in a
unique thicket of Arizona cypress trees, an area biologists said
should be off-limits to cattle.
Seidman began to argue in writing with the Forest Service's
management plans for the allotment. At first, he says, the agency
assumed he was a troublemaker - some kind of radical
environmentalist - and failed to send him pertinent
"You can't just be emotional," he
says. "You can't just say, "I hate cows."
Seidman appealed the agency's first
environmental assessment of the allotment in 1992. His appeal was
rejected. He appealed a second assessment in 1993, this time taking
it all the way to the regional forester. The agency turned him down
Finally, Seidman obtained some pro bono
assistance from the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies and some
advice from Arizona State's Joe Feller, a law professor and grazing
activist. With their help, he filed a lawsuit against the Tonto
In his ruling on the case,
Federal District Court Judge Roger Strand said that the agency
cannot choose a management plan from a set of alternatives that all
call for grazing a maximum number of cattle. It must consider the
benefits of grazing fewer cattle, he said, in order to protect
wildlife habitat and to preserve the beauty of a popular hiking
Seidman knows the decision doesn't mean
he's won the war. Judge Strand gave the Forest Service six months
to develop alternative management plans for the allotment. Since
the Forest Service is not required to choose any of the plans,
Seidman worries it may just give lip-service to values other than
Still, the ruling gives new spark to
Seidman's fight, and his lawyers say the Pole Hollow ruling could
reverberate throughout the West.
"In the past,
progress consisted of moving from bad cattle management to good
cattle management," says Feller. "Judge Strand's order requires the
next step - a move to multiple-use management."
Feller was involved in a similar case two years
ago, when an administrative judge evicted cows from the Comb Wash
allotment in southern Utah because the BLM had ignored the
environmental impacts of grazing on the area (HCN, 1/24/94). That
case involved more acres and more issues, but Feller says the Pole
Hollow case sets a more important precedent because it was decided
in a federal court.
"There's a lesson beyond the
legal lesson here," he adds. "Agencies should not try to blow off
people like Michael Seidman."
information contact the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies at
303/444-1188, or the Payson Ranger District of Tonto National
Forest at 520/474-7900.
Jenny Emery is a former