Agency Values Cows over Conservation in the World-Renowned San Pedro Riparian Area

For Immediate Release  –  April 26, 2019


Cyndi Tuell, (520) 272-2454,

Sandy Bahr, (602) 999-5790,

Dr. Juliet Stromberg, (602) 276-2635

Tricia Gerrodette, (520) 378-4937,


TUCSON, Ariz.— Today the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its long-awaited proposed plan for managing the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (RNCA). The proposed management plan allows destructive levels of livestock grazing to continue on 7,030 acres of protected lands in this rare southwestern riparian ecosystem, despite the myriad known adverse impacts grazing has on southwestern riparian systems.

This National Conservation Area has been legally off limits to most livestock grazing since its designation in 1988, although trespass livestock are a regular occurrence and cause damaging impacts to water quality, vegetation communities, and wildlife in the RNCA. Four livestock grazing allotments in the San Pedro RNCA were ‘grandfathered in’ after a land exchange with the state pending analysis in this new plan, which was supposed to be completed 10-15 years after its 1988 designation. However, that grazing has been allowed to persist for 30 years, and the damage to the conservation area has been ongoing during that time.

“It is shocking that the BLM has ignored the science, the will of the people, and its obligation to protect the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.  People care about this area because of the wildlife and the beauty of this ‘ribbon of green’ in the desert,” said Cyndi Tuell, the Arizona and New Mexico Director for Western Watersheds Project.  “The BLM cannot risk everything that makes this place unique for the sake of a handful of commercial livestock interests.”

Michael Gregory was a member of the committee appointed by then-Governor Babbitt to draft the San Pedro RNCA’s enabling legislation, which had broad bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Reagan in 1988. “The law is clear,” Gregory said, “the San Pedro should be managed to protect the unique biosystem, and specifically exempts the National Conservation Area from the usual BLM emphasis on inherently destructive uses like grazing and heavy recreation. It’s unconscionable of the current Administration to contradict the clear intent of Congress.”

“While not unexpected, we are disheartened the BLM got this wrong despite the clear scientific evidence that livestock grazing is devastating to riparian ecosystems,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “The Sierra Club has worked hard and long to protect this amazing, fragile, diverse, and important National Conservation Area and we are outraged that we must continue the fight and stand against the BLM on this proposed plan. With so few healthy riparian areas left in our state, we must do everything we can to protect them.”

“The benefits of managing the San Pedro River and its ecosystems for their natural values outweigh those of using it for local resource extraction,” says Dr. Juliet Stromberg, an Arizona State University professor who has conducted extensive long-term studies on the recovery of the San Pedro River ecosystem following the removal of livestock at the time of the San Pedro RNCA establishment. “The BLM’s decision ignores that maintaining a network of reference areas that operate free from human interventions is imperative so that we, as a society, can understand how these areas function under their highest potential. The San Pedro River and its ecosystems are a national treasure and should be treated as such.”

Tricia Gerrodette is a Sierra Vista resident who has advocated for the protection of the San Pedro River and SPRNCA for many years. “The SPRNCA was created to ‘conserve, protect, and enhance the riparian area and the aquatic, wildlife, archaeological, paleontological, scientific, cultural, educational, and recreational resources of the conservation area,’ and these conservation values must be protected,” said Gerrodette. “This plan fails to move forward on putting those values first.”

“The BLM attempted to move the goalposts so the public would be pleased when they moved them back to the original position. But the status quo doesn’t protect the precious resources the San Pedro RNCA was designed to protect,” said Tuell.



The 56,000-acre conservation area was designated by Congress as the nation’s first Riparian National Conservation Area on November 18, 1988. It starts at the US-Mexico border and continues north about 47 miles along the San Pedro River, supporting a riparian area that includes four of the rarest habitat types in the Southwest: Fremont cottonwood/Goodding willow woodlands, cienegas, big sacaton grasslands, and mesquite bosques. The SPRNCA is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area, attracting birders from all over the world and providing habitat for more than 350 species of birds. Within the last 150 years, more than 80 species of mammals have called the SPRNCA home, making it among the richest assemblages of land mammal species in the world. The SPRNCA also supports more than 50 species of reptiles and amphibians and has historically supported 13 species of native fishes. Today, only two native fish remain in the river, the longfin dace and desert sucker.

The SPRNCA provides habitat for 18 federally listed, or proposed, threatened and endangered species, including designated critical habitat for the endangered Huachuca water umbel (Lilaeopsis schaffneriana ssp. recurva) and proposed critical habitat for the northern Mexican gartersnake (Thamnophis eques megalops) and yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). Designated critical habitat for southwestern willow flycatchers (Empidonax traillii extimus) occurs on the San Pedro River downstream of the SPRNCA, and designated critical habitat for the jaguar (Panthera onca) occurs approximately three miles west of the SPRNCA.


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