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WWP sues to protect San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

WWP sues to protect San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area


April 8, 2020

WWP and our allies filed a new lawsuit yesterday challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to allow environmentally destructive cattle grazing in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (NCA). The agency’s 2019 management plan fails to adequately protect this remarkable place, a free-flowing river oasis in southeastern Arizona that provides habitat for more than 350 species of birds, dozens of species of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 80 mammals.

Upon its creation by Congress in 1988, the San Pedro Riparian NCA was designated to “conserve, protect, and enhance” the riparian and other conservation resources. At the time, the BLM recognized that livestock grazing was having a significant negative impact on the river, plants, and wildlife that lived there and prohibited cows from grazing on the protected lands. However, four Arizona state trust land allotments were swapped into BLM tenure, and the active grazing operations were allowed to continue for the duration of the permit.

Since then, however, the BLM has rubber-stamped the renewals of the leases and has allowed the cows to continue grazing this fragile riparian area despite the well-known — and well-documented — harm this has caused. 

Dozens of scientific studies at the San Pedro Riparian NCA have documented the positive changes and recovery of the land that took place after livestock were moved off the majority of the land. In addition, twenty-one scientists sent in a letter emphasizing the fragility of the NCA and the likelihood of serious impacts from allowing cattle to intrude there.

WWP expected that when BLM revised the management plan for the San Pedro Riparian NCA, the agency would acknowledge their duty to conserve, protect, and enhance the natural resources and beauty of the San Pedro River and get rid of the remaining livestock. We began advocating for changes in 2009 when the allotments were first evaluated under rangeland health standards, and we stayed engaged throughout the planning process that began in 2013. We told the BLM, time and again, that they had an obligation to follow the law and protect this amazing desert river that faces so many threats, including groundwater depletion, developers with an eye to grab the little water that is left in the river, and increasing border militarization that is cutting off a major wildlife migration corridor at the southern end of the San Pedro Riparian NCA.

Unfortunately, BLM ignored our concerns, instead finalizing a decision that not only sanctioned livestock on the allotments, but could allow an increase in the number of permitted livestock and expand the use of livestock throughout the entire San Pedro Riparian NCA to “control” vegetation. This is unscientific, unsound, and unwarranted.

Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter, represented by Advocates for the West, filed the complaint in Tucson, Arizona. A copy of the complaint is online here.


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