Suit filed over grazing in monument

Nov 11, 2008
Suit filed over grazing in monument

Sonoran Desert National Monument with the Table Top Mountains in the distance.

At the end of President Bill Clinton’s last term, a number of wilderness areas were set aside for further study and potential federal protection. Those declara tions have caused a number of headaches for ranchers across the west who depend on those public lands for cattle grazing and their live lihoods.

One of the most con troversial areas is the Sono ran Desert National Monu ment. Managed by the Bu reau of Land Management (BLM), it was targeted sev en-and-a-half years ago for federal protection. Since then, however, BLM has worked to maintain grazing allotments and protect the interests of ranchers who have been managing the desert ecosystem for de cades.

Last week, Western Wa tersheds Project (WWP) and Arizona’s Center For Bio logical Diversity (CBD) filed a lawsuit to halt grazing in the Sonoran Desert Nation al Monument, citing Clin ton’s mandate and arguing that BLM hasn’t done any thing to fulfill his directive.

“Clinton’s proclamation specifically identified the rich biodiversity of the Sand Tank Mountains and attrib uted this richness to the long-term absence of live stock grazing. The procla mation also stated that graz ing should only continue on certain portions of the mon ument if the Bureau of Land Management found it to be compatible with protection of the monument objects, including biological, cultur al, and historic resources,” said WWP staff in making the announcement last week. WWP and CBD officials claim that the area, long a target for the two groups whose goal is to eliminate all livestock grazing on public land, is far too sensitive to allow grazing activity of any kind. Further use by ranch ers would result in irrepa rable damage, the groups claim.

“The monument, west of Casa Grande, continues to be harmed by the agency’s neglect, despite its special status designation,” the two groups claimed.

“Grazing has gone on too long in this unique place,” said Greta Anderson, Ari zona director of Western Watersheds Project. “The BLM knows that livestock are harming these hot, dry desert lands, but they con tinue to authorize cows year after year. They are failing to follow the letter and spir it of the designation every time they renew a permit or allow cows to be turned out.” However, public land graz ing permits have long been allotted to ranchers in the region and many current permits have been issued, with some running through 2015. A loss of those permits would be devastating to ranchers in the area, a factignored by the environmen talists who have a long track record of forcing federal agencies to halt grazing through the courts.

“When it comes to protect ing the rare and irreplace able resources on this na tional monument, the BLM should be taking a precau tionary approach,” said An derson.

“The lawsuit alleges that the BLM has unduly delayed reaching a compat ibility determination and has failed to act upon what it knows to be true already— that livestock are having a detrimental effect on the monument resources. The lawsuit also claims that the BLM has improperly reau thorized grazing without having first determined compatibility, which is con trary to the direction of the proclamation.”

Anderson said the grazing permits were issued without a complete National Envi ronmental Policy Analysis (NEPA) by BLM officials.

Failure to complete NEPA requirements has often caused problems for ranch ers who depend on the fed eral government to fulfill the requirements. The failure to meet regulatory require ments often leads to court victories by the environmen talists.

“These permit renewals were done without a com plete NEPA process and without even basic assess ments of the ecological health of the allotment. This was done despite having evidence from two studies to show that livestock were harming monument re sources,” said Anderson. “We think it was done illegally, and that the agency has de layed long enough.” — John Robinson, WLJ Editor