Earthjustice is filing a motion for summary judgment Monday in a region-wide grazing challenge against the Forest Service in Arizona and New Mexico. Earthjustice represents Forest Guardians and nine other local environmental groups in this case.
“This lawsuit has the potential to fundamentally change the way the Forest Service administers grazing in the southwest,” said Earthjustice attorney Marie Kirk. Summary judgment in Earthjustice’s favor would finally force the Forest Service to monitor grazing use and implement grazing and riparian standards that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said were necessary to protect the Mexican spotted owl.
In 1996, the US Fish and Wildlife Service published two Biological Opinions explaining that the Forest Service had to enforce strict grazing standards to prevent the Mexican spotted owl’s extinction. The Biological Opinions assumed that the Forest Service would carry out these standards on every grazing allotment in the region. These standards required the Forest Service to monitor livestock use, limit cattle grazing, and fix stream banks and other riparian areas that had been damaged by cattle grazing. On approximately 75 % of grazing allotments in the southwest, however, these standards simply are not being enforced by the Forest Service.
“The Forest Service is not even monitoring on more than half of its grazing allotments,” said Ms. Kirk. She added, “Where the Forest Service does monitor, its own reports show serious violations of its grazing standards.”
“Many watersheds and riparian areas are being grazed to death,” said John Horning of Forest Guardians. “The Forest Service has a responsibility to preserve these lands for future generations,” he said, “and so far, the Forest Service is failing.”
The primary goal of the suit is to protect watersheds and riparian areas across the southwest region. The suit would require the Forest Service to implement the grazing and riparian standards USFWS said were needed and also force the Forest Service to reopen discussions with the USFWS about the impacts of grazing activities on the Mexican spotted owl.
Livestock grazing threatens the Mexican spotted owl in two important ways. Grazing reduces the grass cover needed by small mammals, on which the Mexican spotted owl depends for food. In addition, overgrazing damages streams, creeks, and other wetlands, which are believed to be important for various life stages of the owl, including dispersal of the owl’s young.