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For Immediate Release, December 28, 2009

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

Lawsuit to Be Filed to Protect Fossil Creek Endangered Species From Corporate Cattle Grazing

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed notice that it will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 60 days to protect an endangered species, the Chiricahua leopard frog, from livestock grazing in the Fossil Creek watershed.  

In April, the Coconino National Forest approved grazing by nearly 500 head of cattle in the 42,000-acre Fossil Creek Range Allotment straddling the Mogollon Rim between Camp Verde and Strawberry.  It admitted at the time that degraded range conditions due to past grazing could not support the approved grazing levels, and that adverse effects to the watershed were likely to occur.  

Previously, the Forest had permitted grazing on the Fossil Creek allotment, but kept cows out of the area for part of the last decade because drought conditions and soil damage limited range capacity. It documented unsatisfactory, impaired or inherently unstable soil conditions across 96 percent of the allotment, with only four percent of the soils in satisfactory condition.  Currently, soil loss is about 35 percent above normal, which translates into erosion of eight tons per hectare annually.  Soil erosion due to grazing and roads contributes sediment that harms aquatic life in Fossil Creek.  Fully 60 to 87 percent of the allotment is in a downward range condition trend now.

The permit holder, J.P. Morgan-Chase & Co., a multinational financial services firm with interests in the historic Ward Ranch of Rimrock, Ariz., which is located adjacent to federal lands in the Fossil Creek allotment, reintroduced approximately 290 cows in September, and grazing is ongoing now.

The notice states that Fish and Wildlife violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to set a number of Chiricahua leopard frogs that may be killed or displaced as cows trample and dewater their aquatic habitat, including streams and wetlands, without jeopardizing the species.

Listed as “threatened” under the Act in 2002, the frog needs permanent water to reproduce, making perennial Fossil Creek and 149 miles of tributary streams in surrounding uplands ideal habitat in an otherwise inhospitable desert.  But livestock grazing, water diversions and dams have destroyed more than 80 percent of known habitat throughout the range of the species, which reaches to Mexico. 

The biological opinion that allows grazing must limit “incidental take” to avoid jeopardy to Chiricahua leopard frog, according to Jay Lininger, a Center ecologist in Flagstaff.

“Corporate cattle may drive leopard frogs to extinction in northern Arizona, and we are determined to help it live,” he said.  “We want cows out of Fossil Creek.”

Fossil Creek and its watershed host the last remaining Chiricahua leopard frog habitat in the Coconino National Forest, according to federal biologists. 

Fossil Creek also hosts the most ambitious watershed restoration effort in the state of Arizona.  Since 2004, state agencies have removed two hydroelectric powerhouses, restored natural flows to the creek, removed exotic fish, and reintroduced native fish.

“Fossil Creek is an oasis in the desert and one of the most biologically special places in Arizona,” said Lininger.  “Putting cows back in there cheapens public investment in restoration.”

The Center in June appealed the Coconino National Forest’s authorization of grazing at Fossil Creek, which that agency dismissed in July, giving rise to today’s notice of legal action. 

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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