PRESS ADVISORY: Embargoed until Tuesday Sept 2, 2003 at 9 am
CONTACT: Martin Taylor, Center for Biological Diversity, 520 623 5252 x 307
PRESS CONFERENCE TIME: 9:00AM Tuesday Sept 2, 2003
WHERE: Outside Cattlemen's Association building cnr 24th Street and McDowell, Phoenix AZ.
CITIZENS ATTACK BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S BACK-ROOM DEALS WITH RANCHERS ~ DEMAND: KEEP CONTROL OF PUBLIC LANDS IN PUBLIC HANDS!
PHOENIX- Southwestern conservation groups representing more than 26,500 citizens and users of federal public lands in Arizona are protesting closed-door meetings between the livestock industry and high level officials of the U.S. Forest Service that could hand over substantial control of Arizona public lands to ranchers, shutting the public's voice out of grazing issues on their own public lands.
The Tonto National Forest has been applying a policy for restricting grazing during drought that is based on science rather than the economic interests of a few. In response, the Arizona Cattle Growers Association's leadership has been lobbying high level political allies in Washington, D.C. to reverse suspensions of grazing privileges on the Tonto National Forest during the present drought, and reduce public oversight of grazing.
Conservation groups were angered to learn that on August 12, 2003 Dale Bosworth, Chief of the Forest Service flew out to Arizona for a private meeting with Arizona Cattle Growers Association officials and disgruntled ranchers with grazing permits on the Tonto National Forest. They also learned through a leaked memo that Regional Forester Harv Forsgren was planning to hold a secret follow-up meeting with Cattle Growers on Sept 2 to discuss substantive changes in management of public lands, specifically on the Tonto National Forest, that would give special privileges to ranchers.
On August 29, the Center for Biological Diversity, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, Forest Guardians, Gila Watch, Prescott National Forest Friends and Phoenix Earth First! joined together in a letter sent to the Regional Forester Harv Forsgren, demanding an end to these back-room deals with ranchers over management of grazing on public lands.
" These lands are not the private domain of ranchers, they are public lands owned by all of us," wrote Dr Martin Taylor, conservation biologist with the Center, on behalf of the groups. Both Bosworth and Forsgren have ignored appeals by conservation groups for public meetings to discuss regulation of grazing on public lands. "This is the Bush administration's anti-conservation agenda in action -- sweetheart deals with commercial interests, taking the 'public' out of 'public lands'" Taylor added.
" Ranchers want to put an end to multiple uses on public lands and have it all to themselves, with public input limited to just a few token 'environmentalists' on their 'collaborative' teams" said Jack Simon, of the Arizona Wildlife Federation. "The Forest Service needs to be doing the public's business in an open manner and not cutting secret deals behind closed doors," Simon added.
Citizens will gather outside the Regional Forester's private meeting
with Cattle Growers on Tuesday and demand that it be canceled and rescheduled
as a public forum, as it should be by law.