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For Immediate Release, June 17, 2009

Contact: Jay Lininger, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 853-9929,

Livestock Grazing Threatens Fossil Creek Restoration, Endangered Wildlife

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity on Monday filed an administrative appeal challenging the U.S. Forest Service for its failure to protect endangered wildlife and water quality in the federally designated “wild and scenic” Fossil Creek watershed when it authorized livestock grazing on 42,000 acres southeast of Camp Verde.

In April, the Coconino National Forest approved introduction of nearly 500 cattle on land where its own environmental analysis states current conditions cannot support them. The appeal states that the grazing plan violates the National Forest Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Endangered Species Act because it will allow cattle to degrade habitat and further damage watershed conditions that the Forest Service deems to be “unsatisfactory” now.

“Fossil Creek is a precious ribbon of life in the desert, and one of the most biologically important parts of Arizona,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff. “Livestock grazing there will undermine expensive public investments in ecosystem restoration and wildlife recovery.”

Fossil Creek is one of Arizona's rare perennial streams. It flows from Fossil Springs in the central Mogollon Rim country southwest to the Verde River. The surrounding landscape is rich in unique biological resources, including native fish and wildlife, cultural sites, wilderness areas, colorful wildflowers, abundant riparian vegetation, and crystal-clear spring waters.

Since the 2005 decommissioning of the Childs/Irving power plants returned full flows to Fossil Creek in one of Arizona’s most ambitious river restoration efforts to date, travertine mineral deposits are actively creating a unique system of deep pools and waterfalls, resulting in new and varied fish and wildlife habitat, more diverse native vegetation, and increased scenic quality. Travertine deposits occur in only two other locations in Arizona, making this a rare and important resource, and the best native fish restoration area in the state.

Last March, Congress designated Fossil Creek as a “wild and scenic river,” making it the second Arizona waterway with that distinction – the first was part of the Verde River including its confluence with Fossil Creek.

According to Forest Service analysis, livestock grazing is the chief reason why soil erosion is 35 – 50 percent above natural background levels in the Fossil Creek watershed, delivering 30 times more sediment to the creek than the road system. Resulting declines of soil productivity and plant growth harm small mammals and predatory birds, such as Mexican spotted owl. Sediment fills breeding spaces for endangered fish including loach minnow and spikedace, and harms their reproductive success. And trampling and dewatering of springs and ponds by cows can destroy the habitat of Chiricahua leopard frog, whose local populations are highly vulnerable to extinction.

“The Forest Service’s own data show that livestock grazing will harm Fossil Creek and even wipe out some endangered wildlife in the area,” said Lininger. “The agency is attempting to revive an ancient industry at the expense of one of Arizona’s natural crown jewels.”

More than 90 percent of the lower Verde River watershed is subject to livestock grazing, and the Fossil Creek allotment is the largest of 20 in the area. In 2002, drought forced cows off the allotment due to lack of water and plant growth. Range conditions have not significantly improved in the past seven years, according to the Forest Service’s analysis.

Lininger said that range conditions at Fossil Creek are not likely to support grazing in the foreseeable future because the regional climate is transitioning to more arid conditions.

“The regional climate is changing, and that has to drive our land management choices,” Lininger said.

The Forest Service has 45 days to respond to today’s appeal.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 220,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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