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For Immediate Release, August 25, 2011

Contact:   Jay Lininger, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 853-9929
Erik Ryberg, Western Watersheds Project, (520) 622-3333

Lawsuit Challenges Livestock Grazing on Quarter-million Acres of Arizona's National Forest Lands

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project sued the U.S. Forest Service today over decisions allowing livestock grazing on nearly 225,000 acres of national forest lands in Arizona. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Tucson, says federal officials, before approving the grazing, should have conducted in-depth environmental reviews of 18 livestock grazing allotments on the Coconino, Coronado, Kaibab, Prescott and Tonto national forests.

“Livestock grazing on public land is highly destructive to the environment and contributes to massive wildfires,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center. “Grazing also is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and Americans don’t get a fair return for giving private ranchers access to our publically owned national forests.”

In 2005 and again in 2008, Congress allowed the Forest Service to waive detailed environmental reviews for grazing decisions that meet these criteria: (1) the decision continues current grazing management; (2) the management is meeting or moving toward desired conditions for the land; and (3) the decision would not affect sensitive resources like wetlands and endangered species. 

Each of the grazing decisions challenged today violates one or more of the three criteria, according to the lawsuit. In some cases, the agency permitted increased grazing above historic levels. In others, it allowed grazing at historic levels despite data showing that it exceeds the land’s carrying capacity. The lawsuit demands more rigorous study and disclosure of environmental impacts and economic costs of grazing in each allotment.

"Livestock grazing in Arizona's hot, dry deserts can be extremely harmful to the plants and animals that evolved here, and it uses up a tremendous amount of water and forage that would otherwise go to our native species,” said Erik Ryberg, an attorney with the Western Watersheds Project. “It’s important to ensure that there is appropriate public review of decisions to lease public lands to the livestock industry."

Today’s lawsuit comes amid controversy over the Obama administration’s collection of fees for grazing on public land. Earlier this year, the administration set a $1.35 monthly fee charged for each cow and calf grazed on western public land, including national forests. A 2005 U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that Forest Service grazing receipts fail to recover even 15 percent of administrative costs and are much lower than fees charged by other federal agencies, states and private ranchers. The GAO found that to recover expenditures, the Forest Service would have to charge $12.26 per animal unit month.

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