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For Immediate Release, December 30, 2009

Contact:  Ed Biggers, Greer Coalition, (520) 742-1396,
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713,

Lawsuit Defends Wildlife and Habitat From National-forest Land Swap
Wildcat Subdivision Threatens Creeks, Creatures, and Rural Community

GREER, Ariz.—The Arizona Center for Law and the Public Interest today filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of two plaintiff groups – the Greer Coalition, a local community group, and the Center for Biological Diversity – challenging a U.S. Forest Service decision approving the Black River Land Exchange in eastern Arizona. The Black River Land Exchange would trade two parcels of federal land totaling 337.74 acres near Greer, Arizona for three parcels of private land totaling 396.35 acres near the Black River and Blue River. The Greer parcels, which provide wildlife habitat and community open space, could potentially be developed with 258 home sites. The proponent of the exchange owns private land adjacent to those parcels that were acquired through an earlier federal land exchange.

This is the Forest Service’s second attempt at the Black River Land Exchange; a federal judge in 2007 overturned the agency’s first attempt following a legal challenge by the same plaintiff groups. Today’s lawsuit asserts that the Forest Service’s decision making falls short of the judge’s 2007 order by continuing legal violations from its first failed attempt at the exchange. Those violations include failing to fully analyze the environmental impacts that would result from development in Greer; failing to accurately value the properties in question; and failing to undertake a scientifically sound analysis of the impacts that new groundwater pumping would have on streams, riparian areas and wildlife, including threatened species like the Little Colorado spinedace and Mexican spotted owl.

“Acquiring public land shouldn’t necessitate sacrificing public land to developers,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “And it certainly doesn’t justify the Forest Service illegally denying the public a clear picture of losses in the deal. That’s why we’re going to court again.”

“This exchange, in combination with a prior exchange in 1993 with the same individual, would provide and additional 547 acres available for development,” said Ed Biggers with the Greer Coalition. “This would nearly double the number of property owners in Greer and drastically change the unique rustic nature of Greer, along with the associated loss of open space, wildlife habitats, and riparian areas. These are the reasons we love Greer.”

Of particular concern to plaintiff groups are hydrological impacts of the proposed exchange and potential development.  The Forest Service ignored administrative appeals from the groups and independent hydrologists that highlighted flaws in the assumptions and methodology employed in its hydrology analysis. The hydrology analysis, upon which wildlife-impacts analysis relies, fails to characterize baseline aquifer conditions; underestimates draw-down potential from development; incorrectly assumes that septic systems would recharge aquifers, when in fact all new development in the area would be required by law to hook up to the Little Colorado Sanitation System; and fails to look at potential draw down resulting from groundwater pumping by other adjacent existing and foreseeable development.

The Greer Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity are being represented by attorney Joy Herr-Cardillo of the Arizona Center for Law and the Public Interest.  Ms. Herr-Cardillo successfully argued against the Forest Service’s first failed attempt to implement the Black River Land Exchange.

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