Proposed Plan of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area Announced

For Immediate Release                                                                                       

June 29, 2018


Greta Anderson, (520) 623-1878,

Stuart Gillespie, (303) 996-9616,

Sandy Bahr, (602) 999-5790,

Tricia Gerrodette, (520) 378-4937,


TUCSON, Arizona— This morning, the Bureau of Land Management released a long-awaited draft plan for managing the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), signaling its intention to open an additional 19,000 acres to livestock grazing.

“People visit the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area to bird watch, enjoy the cool riparian canopy, look for wildlife, and to appreciate the beauty of this ‘ribbon of green’ in the desert,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “Nobody comes for the cowpies. It’s unfortunate that BLM is proposing to risk all the other values that make this place unique for the sake of a handful of ranchers.”

This national conservation area faces a myriad of threats, including drought, development and groundwater pumping, border militarization, climate change, and livestock grazing. In establishing the conservation area, Congress charged the BLM with an affirmative duty to conserve, protect, and enhance this amazing and diverse landscape. Yet, the draft plan proposes management actions, such as increased grazing, that run afoul of Congress’ mandate and are sure to degrade this special place.

“The San Pedro River is a true gem – an oasis in the desert that supports a rich array of species, including millions of migratory songbirds,” said Earthjustice attorney Stuart Gillespie.  “Rather than conserving, protecting, and enhancing this riparian area, as mandated by Congress, BLM is proposing to remove long-standing protections in the name of more livestock grazing, more herbicide use, and more heavy equipment to remove vegetation.  This ‘all-of-the-above’ management strategy runs contrary to Congress’ mandate and would degrade this special place.”

The SPRNCA has been legally off limits to most livestock grazing since 1989. According to the new plan, the BLM would increase livestock grazing in uplandareas with soils that have a severe susceptibility to erosion caused by grazing, which would then have impacts on water quality within the San Pedro River. Given that trespass livestock have been an ongoing problem for nearly twenty years, it is likely that more of the riparian area will be impacted than the BLM has anticipated.

“To allow decades of conservation to be eaten away by allowing cattle to decimate the San Pedro’s vegetation and to harm wildlife, including imperiled plants and animals, is unconscionable,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “We must do everything we can to protect this amazing, yet fragile, national conservation area.”

Tricia Gerrodette, a Sierra Vista resident who has advocated for the protection of the San Pedro River and SPRNCA for many years also expressed concerns about the possibility of increased grazing. “Increased grazing in the uplands of the SPRNCA will not help the health of the watershed for the river, which should also be part of the conservation values of the SPRNCA that need to be protected. BLM will need to produce studies that support the idea of grazing and healthy native grasslands in the uplands.”

Western Watersheds Project and Sierra Club will be closely monitoring the forthcoming planning process in conjunction with Earthjustice and other organizations.


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 forests, 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 400 species of birds. Within the last 150 years, more than 80 species of mammals have called the SPRNCA home, making it one of 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 northern Mexican gartersnake (Thamnophis eques megalops) and yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). Designated critical habitat for southwestern willow flycatcher (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.


Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife across the Intermountain West.

Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change.  Because the earth needs a good lawyer.

Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club is a national nonprofit environmental organization with approximately 2.7 million members and supporters, including more than 60,000 in Arizona. Sierra Club’s mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.

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