Arizona's Prescott National Forest is not the place for cows and sheep, according to a lawsuit filed in August by The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club. But the suit goes beyond the usual grazing vs. o-grazing debate.


The lawsuit charges that the Forest Service violated federal law by issuing grazing permits without considering whether the Prescott was suitable for livestock. The 1976 National Forest Management Act requires the agency to determine if an activity is economically and environmentally appropriate when developing forest plans.


The Forest Service has acknowledged that grazing has extensively damaged the Prescott. In 1987, planners found all but 1 percent of the forest's streamside areas in poor or very poor condition. Still, they opted to continue grazing in most areas.


Regional foresters are now working on a "how-to" guide for determining suitability, and Charlie Richmond, head of range management for the Rocky Mountain Region, expects it will lead to restricted grazing in some areas. He says, "There are a lot of things we can do better in terms of suitability."


* Greg Hanscom