Western Watersheds Project Puts an End to Zombie Grazing Permit

For Immediate Release: June 11, 2020


Cyndi Tuell, Western Watersheds Project, 520-272-2454, cyndi@westernwatersheds.org


TUCSON, Ariz.—Today, a federal judge agreed to resolve Western Watersheds Project’s lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for illegally issuing a grazing permit on public lands in southeastern Arizona that had been off limits to livestock use for nearly thirty years. Western Watersheds Project was willing to dismiss the lawsuit after the BLM withdrew the underlying grazing authorization and acknowledged they broke the law.

The allotment was closed in 1991 and the pervious permit was formally revoked, but BLM “transferred” the nonexistent permit in 2018 without any public involvement or environmental analysis. This was particularly problematic because of the ongoing ecological recovery in the absence of authorized grazing and because of the long history of grazing abuses that had occurred on the allotment.

“The Badger Den allotment sits in the San Simon watershed, one of the most degraded watersheds in the country,” said attorney Cyndi Tuell, Western Watersheds Project’s Arizona and New Mexico Director. “Without livestock, this entire area has great potential to support more native plants and wildlife. More cattle in this area would have increased the risk of cows trespassing into the small but significant restoration area, destroying the hard work of wildlife biologists who have a vision for these lands beyond how much forage it can produce.”

The Badger Den allotment includes several restoration projects, including the Sands Draw Exclosure, where native plants and surface water can be found, and which could one day be home to native fish such as the Gila chub. But, in 2018, the BLM illegally fast-tracked the transfer of the cancelled permit and did not allow public involvement. The agency ignored the ecological importance of this area and the potential impacts to ongoing restoration projects, and failed to account for the fact this allotment had been subject to ongoing trespass and unauthorized use since 1991.

The Badger Den allotment  has a long history of controversy. The previous permittee locked gates to public lands, refused to move his livestock as required by his permit, threatened violence against federal authorities, and was eventually held in contempt of court for refusing to recognize the federal government’s authority to manage livestock use on federal public lands. Trespass livestock are still often present on the allotment, but the agency nonetheless intends to move forward with its plans to permit new grazing.

“We want the BLM to see these lands as more than a place to dump cattle. We want BLM to see the potential for this land to again be the thriving ecosystem it once was. We will continue to keep an eye on the BLM in the San Simon valley,” said Tuell.

The lands managed by the BLM are the traditional lands of the Chiricahua and Western Apache and the BLM is bound by law to consider the cultural impacts of its actions.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.

A copy of the order dismissing the case can be found here.


The mission of Western Watersheds Project (www.westernwatersheds.org) is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and legal advocacy.

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