Cows get eviction notice

  In what the Forest Guardians' John Horning calls "evidence of an agency that's finally getting it," the Forest Service has agreed to begin removing cattle from 230 miles of Southwestern streams.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based Southwest Center for Biological Diversity and the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Forest Guardians filed separate lawsuits against the Forest Service last year, charging the agency had failed to consider the impacts of streamside cattle grazing on several endangered species (HCN, 3/30/98).

The Forest Service offered to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service by July 15, but environmental groups said this wasn't fast enough. "This agency has never produced something on time," says Horning. In the agreement reached on April 16, the agency said it would immediately begin removing cattle from 49 grazing allotments, most in forests on the Arizona-New Mexico border.

The agreement, designed to protect the habitat of three endangered fish species and the southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered migratory songbird, was challenged by the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association. The group said the cost of fencing off streams and building new water sources for cattle would drive many ranchers out of business. A U.S. district judge rejected the challenge and upheld the ban.

"When you begin to take away numbers (of ranchers), you lose the infrastructure and support for these rural economies," says Caren Cowan, president of the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association. Reforms may be necessary, she says, but "they have to be done on a case-by-case basis."

"Nearly every one of those rivers are severely overgrazed," responds Horning. "If (the Forest Service) had done a better job of taking care of the land, it would have been easier for them to challenge our call for a grazing ban."

*Michelle Nijhuis

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