Guest opinion: Things to consider as beef production sales ramp up

Cow herd is tended on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona on July 12, 2009.

The Center For Biological Diversity (CBD), U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently came to an agreement to keep cattle grazing off land in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

The three-year agreement requires the Forest Service to ensure more than 150 miles of streamside endangered species habitat in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico will be protected from cattle grazing. A total of 42 grazing allotments are covered in the area, along with several rivers: the Gila, San Francisco, Tularosa and Blue rivers.

CBD said the waterways are home to numerous endangered and threatened species, including southwestern willow flycatchers, yellow-billed Cuckoos, Gila chub, loach minnow and spikedace fish, Chiricahua leopard frogs, and narrow-headed and northern Mexican garter snakes.

“This should finally keep livestock from trampling these fragile southwestern rivers,” said Brian Segee, CBD endangered species legal director. 

“Habitat destruction and invasive species have put nearly all the region’s aquatic species at risk. It’s our hope that the simple step of removing cattle from these waterways will give imperiled species a fighting chance at survival and recovery.”

In 1998, the Forest Service agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from the streamside habitats, CBD said. In 2017, the group conducted surveys that “found widespread, severe cattle damage—including manure and flattened streambanks—on all major waterways in both national forests, imperiling several rare species.”

In early 2020, CBD sued the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act, which led to the August agreement.

“The government agrees with us that livestock grazing and endangered species don’t mix. It’s too bad it took another lawsuit to force the Forest Service to keep cows off southwestern rivers, but let’s hope this time it’ll stick,” Segee concluded. — Anna Miller, WLJ managing editor

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