FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 7, 2003
FEDERAL JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS IN ARIZONA
TUCSON, AZ -- 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Wallace Tashima today ruled in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity and the Central Arizona Paddlers Club in their lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for failing to protect 57 Arizona rivers and streams eligible for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic rivers system. Judge Tashima agreed with the plaintiffs that the Forest Service has a mandatory duty under the Act to consider the eligible rivers and streams in management decisions now, rather than deferring protection for several more years while Forest management plans are revised.
The suit was filed in September 2001 in Federal District Court in Arizona and included claims under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). After District Court judge Williams Browning denied plaintiff’s suit in April 2002, plaintiffs appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
At stake in the case are 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.
Preserving our remaining free-flowing rivers is essential to the preservation of wildlife, especially native fish and other endangered species in the arid West. 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.
“This ruling is an important victory for Arizona’s remaining free-flowing rivers and streams,” stated Brian Segee, Southwest Public Lands Director with CBD. “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 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.
Formed in 1987, the Central Arizona Paddlers Club
works on river conservation and access issues in Arizona, including
cleanup activities on the Upper
and Lower Salt River. The Club’s goals include encouraging sound
environmental and conservation practices with specific attention to protecting
river resources in Arizona, representing
The plaintiffs are represented in the case by Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center. 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.