Environmental Advocacy Group and Federal Agencies Settle Southwest Cattle Grazing Lawsuit

On Wednesday, Center for Biological Diversity and defendants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and United States Forest Service entered into a stipulated settlement agreement resolving the Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit the Center filed in January 2020. According to the Center’s press release, the agreement will protect waterways in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico from cattle grazing.

The Center reportedly filed suit after investigations revealed widespread and severe damage from cattle, including manure-laden and flattened streambanks on major waterways in the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests. The degradation allegedly threatens numerous endangered and threatened bird, fish, and amphibian species like the southwestern willow flycatcher, Gila chub, and Chiricahua leopard frog.

The Center’s December 2020 amended complaint argued that the federal defendants violated ESA provisions in relation to their administration of livestock grazing on allotments within the Upper Gila River watershed and within the national forests. The filing asked for an order finding that the defendants failed to ensure that grazing activities do not jeopardize listed species, failed to remove wayward cattle from protected areas, and failed to design and implement a listed species protection program in the relevant area.

This week’s agreement requires the Forest Service to protect more than 150 miles of streamside endangered species habitat, an area that covers 42 allotments, from grazing-related damage. In addition, the Forest Service has agreed to monitor the watersheds, maintain and repair fencing, and remove trespassing cattle identified by the agency, the Center, or the public. The agency also committed to “devise ways to address invasive species and other conservation challenges facing imperiled southwestern species,” the Center’s press release said. In return, the Center agreed to dismiss the suit with prejudice.

The plaintiff is represented by its own counsel and the federal defendants by attorneys with the United States Department of Justice’s Environment & Natural Resources Division.