Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 26, 2001
SUIT FILED TO PROTECT OVER 750 MILES OF POTENTIAL WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS IN ARIZONA
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service for its failure to protect 57 of Arizona's rivers and streams that have been identified as potential additions to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. The Forest Service identified the potential additions, which total over 750 miles in length, in a 1993 study. Since that time, however, the Forest Service has failed to develop required management guidelines to ensure that the rivers and streams will be protected until a final designation is made under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. As this designation requires Congressional approval and can take years or even decades to accomplish, these guidelines provide critical interim protection from destructive projects including dam proposals, powerline construction, excessive livestock grazing, and logging. CBD's suit seeks to compel the Forest Service to honor the requirements of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by immediately providing management protections for Arizona's potential Wild and Scenic Rivers.
"This is a significant oversight," said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with Western Environmental Law Center who is representing CBD. "Without adequate protection, the Forest Service may approve projects and commit resources during the National Forest planning process that would prejudice an eligible river's chances of being included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system."
"Arizona's potential Wild and Scenic rivers need protection now," stated Brian Segee, forest watch coordinator with CBD. "With 90% of our riparian areas ruined, it is essential that we preserve what's left."
Preserving our remaining free-flowing rivers is essential to the preservation of wildlife, especially native fish and other endangered species in the arid West. Unfortunately, the situation is desperate. For example, three-quarters of Arizona's 34 species of native fish are considered to be imperiled. River-dependent wildlife in Arizona currently listed under the Endangered Species Act include the bald eagle, Little Colorado River spinedace, Southwestern willow flycatcher, Apache and Gila trout, loach minnow, Gila topminnow, Yaqui catfish and Yaqui chub.
"The high number of endangered species in Arizona reflects the immense damage we have done to the environment, especially to rivers and surrounding riparian areas," said Segee. "Protecting these rivers is not only important to imperiled wildlife, it is critical to our own well-being and survival."
The potential Wild and Scenic rivers and streams, located on the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado, Kaibab, Prescott, and Tonto National Forests, flow through an incredible diversity of habitats, from mountaintop spruce-fir forests to Sonoran desert cottonwood-willow riparian forests. Some of the proposed waters include Tonto and Pinto Creeks on the Tonto National Forest, the Black River and Blue River on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Oak Creek and West Clear Creek on the Coconino National Forest, and Sabino Creek, Grant Creek, and Sycamore Creek on the Coronado National Forest.
The Forest Service's failure to protect Arizona's potential Wild and Scenic rivers is currently allowing damaging projects to move forward which should be prohibited. For example, the Coronado National Forest is considering a proposal by Tucson Electric Power (TEP) to install a high-voltage power line across Sycamore Creek, proposed for Wild and Scenic status because of its outstanding wildlife and scenery.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was enacted to protect America's remaining free-flowing rivers from dam proposals and other harmful projects. Since its passage in 1968, over 10,500 miles of river nationwide on over 150 river segments have been designated under the Act. However, there is currently only one Wild and Scenic river in Arizona, a 40 mile stretch of the Upper Verde designated in 1984.
The Center for Biological Diversity, formed in 1989, protects endangered species and wild places of western North America and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.
The Western Environmental Law Center is a public interest environmental law firm dedicated to protecting the West. WELC represents activists, Indian tribes, local governments and citizen groups who seek to protect and restore the forests, rivers, grasslands, wildlife, and human communities of the West.