FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, 7 February 2007
Contact: Melissa Hailey, Forest Guardians, (505) 988-9126 x 159
Greta Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 227-9275
Kevin Bixby, Southwest Environmental Center, (505) 522-5552
Forest Service Agrees to Consider Harm to Sensitive Species
From Cattle Grazing
Forest Service Withdraws Hermosa Allotment Grazing Decision in Response to Groups' Appeal
SANTA FE, N.M.-Conservation groups today applauded a decision by the Gila National Forest to withdraw a controversial plan that would have re-opened an area that had been recovering for more than a decade from previous cattle grazing. The plan to graze the Hermosa Allotment could have harmed more than 100 miles of streams, jeopardized the integrity of native vegetation, and further impaired habitat for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf and other rare species.
"We're delighted that the Forest Service acknowledged the shortcomings of this plan by withdrawing the decision," said Melissa Hailey, attorney with Forest Guardians. "We challenged the plan because it didn't adequately assess the risks to wildlife, watersheds, and the Mexican wolf recovery effort."
The Hermosa Allotment is part of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area and provides habitat for numerous other federally listed wildlife species, including the bald eagle, Mexican spotted owl, and Chiricahua leopard frog. It also provides habitat for at least four rare and sensitive plants that are known to be harmed by livestock grazing operations. Though the allotment has been in non-use for the last 13 years, conditions there are poor to fair, and experiencing a downward trend. The proposed decision would have opened the allotment as a grass bank, for use when other allotments were subjected to prescribed and naturally ignited fires.
"There is no reason to open this allotment for a grass bank," said Greta Anderson, range restoration coordinator at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The land is in poor shape and in need of rest-recovery. The Forest Service has absolutely no obligation to provide forage on public lands when feeding livestock conflicts with ecological needs. We thank the agency for remembering that on the Hermosa Allotment."
The allotment contains over 60,000 acres of public land, two-thirds of which would have been closed to grazing under the proposed plan because the land is not suited to support cattle. The remaining lands, however, were to be used year-round without adequate protection for riparian areas, range conditions, or the needs of other species. The government's environmental documents admit that under the plan, no improvement in resource conditions was expected during the next 10 years.
"It is clearly inappropriate for the agency to use an allotment in such poor condition as a back-up plan," said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces. "We support those parts of the plan that afforded protection to wildlife habitats, but we feared that the agency was risking too much in terms of soil and watershed health, without demonstrating a clear need to do so."
The groups’ appeal can be found at www.fguardians.org/gr/index.asp.
Forest Guardians is a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to the preservation of the wildlands and wildlife of the American southwest. www.fguardians.org
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 32,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat. www.biologicaldiversity.org
The Southwest Environmental Center has a mission to educate, advocate, and restore native wildlife and their habitats in the southwestern borderlands. www.wildmesquite.org