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News Release: for immediate release June 15, 2005

Tonto National Forest managers jeopardize desert by resuming ranching without thoroughly evaluating drought impacts

Contact: Greta Anderson, Botanist & Range Restoration Coordinator 520.623.5252 x314

PHOENIX – In a political giveaway to cattlemen, the Tonto National Forest has begun restocking public land allotments with livestock without a comprehensive analysis of the effects of drought on the land and wildlife. Though the Tonto’s own drought guidance advises waiting at least one full growing season after the resumption of normal precipitation before restocking cattle, the Tonto has rushed to put out cows on the desert this summer, even though the ‘normal’ precipitation did not resume until April of this year. Even worse for the land, the Forest Service’s guidance says, “after severe or extended drought conditions, up to two years of rest could be required.” Cattle were removed from Tonto NF in 2002 because of the seriousness of the drought, and even the Forest’s own hydrologist agrees that this recent drought was extended and severe.

The Center for Biological Diversity is investigating the legality of the move, and the reliability and accuracy of the government justifications.

"The Decision to restock Tonto National Forest is unwise and premature. The long-term drought view is not optimistic. Putting livestock back on the desert without giving native species time to recover unethically jeopardizes the health of the land,” said Greta Anderson, Botanist and Range Restoration Coordinator with the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson. “Surely the small benefit to a few ranchers cannot outweigh the consequence of harming the fragile desert and the wildlife that depends on it.”

To protect the public interest and explore all options, the Tonto NF should be creating a forest-wide Environmental Impact Statement to determine the effects of restocking the range so soon after the drought ended. This EIS should look at all of the effects on endangered wildlife, including the southwest willow flycatcher, and at special places like the Verde River. The forest should be assessing viable alternatives to livestock production, including voluntary buy-out options to protect the desert and provide economic incentives to ranchers for conservation. Many cattlemen on the Tonto have expressed support for grazing permit buyouts and allotment retirement due to drought and desert conditions not suited for livestock production.

However, instead of the agency evaluating the suitability of desert livestock grazing, the ranchers on Tonto are being heavily subsidized. In 2002, when most cows were removed from Tonto, ranchers were paid handsomely to “voluntarily” remove their livestock. Now, with more taxpayer dollars, efforts to turn a profit from our desert lands are subsidized by yet more federal aid that will add “improvements,” such as stock tanks, which will allow cattle to graze longer, putting more pressure on the land. Nationwide, the Forest Service and BLM lose an estimated $500 million annually on public lands livestock production.

Tonto officials claim that “rest” from livestock grazing does not mean “removal,” but their wordsmithing to support restocking does not hold up when considered from an ecological viewpoint. Indeed, this special and fragile desert and the creatures that depend on it deserve more than to be hammered by cattle so soon after the rains return.


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