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Bureau of Land Management Finalizes Plan to Increase Livestock Use on the Sonoran Desert National Monument

For Immediate Release – September 29, 2020

Media Contacts:
Cyndi Tuell,, (520) 272-2454, Western Watersheds Project

Sandy Bahr,, (602) 999-5790, Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club

Gary Macfarlane,, (208) 882-9755, Wilderness Watch


TUCSON, Ariz. – Just days after a federal judge declared the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management had served unlawfully, and just over a month after the Fish and Wildlife Service returned the Sonoran desert tortoise to the candidate list for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the Bureau of Land Management released a final decision authorizing destructive livestock grazing on the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The monument has many significant arid-adapted plant and animal species that are known to be harmed by livestock grazing, but the agency is stubbornly reopening much of the area to private ranching interests.

“It’s astounding that just days after a federal judge calls into question all decisions made under Pendley, the Bureau of Land Management remains focused on turning over public lands to the livestock industry,” said Cyndi Tuell, Arizona and New Mexico director for Western Watersheds Project. “It’s a testament to their relentless push to dismantle environmental protections on this National Monument that they are releasing this plan today, and frankly, it’s disgusting that commercial exploitation of fragile cactus forests that have been designated for conservation is a priority for this administration.”

The new decision authorizes up to 4,232 AUMs (Animal Unit Months) of livestock grazing, which would allow hundreds of cow-calf pairs to graze on Monument lands north of Interstate 8, including in designated Wilderness areas and important habitat for the Sonoran desert tortoise. Sonoran Desert National Monument is renowned for its cactus forests featuring the massive saguaro, America’s most iconic and spectacular cactus.

“The Monument designation provides the Bureau with all the tools it needs to protect the Sonoran Desert National Monument, including the spectacular North and South Maricopa Mountains Wildernesses,” said Gary Macfarlane, board member of Wilderness Watch. “Rather than make the logical choice to end livestock grazing in this extremely arid environment, the agency has decided that degradation of the Monument and Wilderness is acceptable in spite of all evidence to the contrary.”

The Sonoran Desert National Monument was designated in 2001 in order to protect the unique desert landscapes and habitat for imperiled wildlife such as cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, desert tortoise, Gila monsters, and bighorn sheep, as well as the impressive array of archeological and cultural resources. 

“While we are not surprised by this decision — one of many harmful decisions by William Perry Pendley who was serving unlawfully at the Bureau of Land Management — it is still disturbing to see one of our country’s largest public land managers ignore the concerns of the public and neglect one of its premiere land areas, the Sonoran Desert National Monument,” said Sandy Bahr, director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “This monument was established to protect our beautiful Sonoran Desert — the palo verdes and saguaros, as well as the desert tortoises, all of which are threatened by this irresponsible livestock grazing.”

The 496,000-acre monument is on the traditional lands of the O’odham, Yavapai Apache, Cocopah, and Hohokam peoples. 


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