Southwest cows have friends in high places

  • Cows have left their mark on the Jordan Mesa Allotment

    John Horning photo
  • Alaska Rep. Don Young

  • Regional Forester Eleanor Towns

 

The Forest Service is once again pinned down in a shootout over grazing in the Southwest. If the agency moves one way, it dodges lawsuits from environmental groups that say cows imperil endangered fish and birds. If it steps the other way, it faces fire from the livestock industry and its powerful allies in Congress.

The latest chapter followed a stormy hearing by the House Resources Committee on how the Endangered Species Act is implemented in the Southwest, home to more lawsuits over endangered species than any other region.

On July 28, Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, who chairs the committee, asked agency officials to do a background check on staffers to see if they have ties to environmental groups. And in a letter to Southwest Regional Forester Eleanor Towns, Young asked for a list of staffers who have donated money to or joined the Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians or the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Ariz., outfit (HCN, 3/30/98).

Critics called it a witch hunt. "Don Young is the Joe McCarthy of the '90s," said Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians. "He's fomenting a green scare that is intimidating public officials and preventing them from doing their job."

Steve Hansen, communications director for Young's committee, explained that his boss was trying to determine whether Forest Service employees are leaking information to environmental groups.

"When you have accusations that federal employees are leaking information to organizations that are suing the federal government, then it's very relevant in finding who's doing this and being able to put a stop to it," Hansen said.

But Regional Forester Towns doubted she could meet Young's request for names. Forest Service attorneys were deliberating over the request, but, said Towns, "My gut tells me that somehow I'd be crossing the line with (a) potential for (violating) freedom of speech (and) privacy act kinds of considerations."

Why the heat?

The congressional pressure is a result of an April agreement between the Forest Service and the environmentalists. Environmentalists withdrew a preliminary motion against the agency when the Forest Service agreed to give ranchers until Aug. 15 to pull cows off of 300 miles of riverside areas in the Apache-Sitgreaves and Prescott national forests in Arizona and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. This was to protect the Southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered songbird, and three threatened fish species: the loach minnow, spikedace and little Colorado spinedace.

Environmentalists celebrated. "This is the beginning of the end," said John Horning of Forest Guardians. "The agreement pulled the heart out of those allotments. You can't really graze in that country without access to those rivers."

The livestock industry tried to appeal the agreement, saying the Forest Service had cut a backroom deal with environmental groups that would put ranchers out of business. When the appeal failed, ranchers went to Don Young for help. And on Aug. 14, the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association filed suit against the Forest Service in a federal court to have the settlement thrown out.

Idaho Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth, head of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, even held a hearing in Espaûola, N.M., on Aug. 15 to hear testimony about the impact of grazing and logging restrictions on northern New Mexico. One hundred and fifty ranchers and loggers showed up.

"I think it's a bunch of shit. (The Forest Service and environmentalists) are sleeping in the same damn bed," said rancher Ray Fowler. The Forest Service had ordered Fowler to move 790 of his cows away from the East Fork of the Gila River on the Gila National Forest this summer. Now, he's selling off some of his herd. "It's putting me out of business," said Fowler, whose family has run cattle in the region since 1947.

Nothing to see here

Caught in the middle of this barrage of hearings, lawsuits and accusations, the Forest Service is trying to keep its head low.

"To my knowledge, no cattle came off national forests as a result of that settlement (with environmental groups)," says Dave Stewart, head of range management for the agency's Southwest region in Albuquerque. "Forest Guardians and the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity want people to believe some massive change is occurring out there. But it's no different than what we've been doing for the last four years."

Stewart acknowledges that lawsuits from environmental groups jump-started grazing reform in the mid 1990s, and that cows have moved away from streams this summer. But the agency has known for years that it is not in compliance with its own environmental standards, he says, and it is in the slow process of correcting that. "This is in response to just good resource stewardship," he says. "It's not happening because of the Endangered Species Act."

This September, the Forest Service plans to release a study of the impacts of grazing on endangered species on 700 grazing allotments in the Southwest. Stewart says the study shouldn't change things much.

John Horning calls the study a farce. "I see the pendulum shifting" away from cattle and toward environmental protection, he says. "But that's because of our litigation, not because the Forest Service has seen the light of day."

Keith Easthouse reports for the Santa Fe New Mexican. Greg Hanscom is an HCN assistant editor.

You can call ...

* The New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association at 505/247-0584;

* John Horning with Forest Guardians at 505/988-9126;

* Dave Stewart with the U.S. Forest Service at 505/842-3224.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.