TUCSON, Ariz.― The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society filed a notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect critical habitat for threatened and endangered species in the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area in southeastern Arizona.
Recent field surveys by the Center documented extensive cattle grazing damage in this protected area, which is a haven for birds, fish and other wildlife.
“It’s heartbreaking to see what used to be lush streams and riparian areas now extensively grazed, trampled and littered with cow feces,” said Chris Bugbee, southwest advocate at the Center. “Because the BLM has failed to protect the Gila Box, it’s been overrun by cows that aren’t supposed to be there. The agency must remove the cattle and fix these fences immediately.”
In surveys conducted in April, May and June 2021, the Center documented extensive damage to streamside habitat, which is designated critical habitat for threatened yellow-billed cuckoos and southwestern willow flycatchers. More than 32 river miles were surveyed and most of them had significant damage from cows, which are supposed to be excluded from the area.
The Gila Box is also important to other endangered species, including the Gila chub, Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, loach minnow and spikedace. The BLM describes the area as a “year-round desert oasis” and “a very special riparian ecosystem abounding with plant and animal diversity.”
“The BLM’s description of the area betrays its lack of stewardship in protecting it,” said Mark Larson, Maricopa Audubon president. “After years of doing nothing about complaints of cattle damage in the area, it’s long past time for BLM employees to do their jobs and protect this critical songbird haven.”
In the desert Southwest, livestock grazing harms threatened and endangered wildlife and is the primary driver of riparian ecosystem degradation. Removal of livestock from riparian areas is a critical component of adapting to climate change.
The Gila Box, which includes 23,000 acres of public lands, is famous for its riparian ecosystem and 1,000-foot-high cliffs towering above the Gila River. Bonita Creek, which meets the Gila River in the conservation area, is renowned as a refuge for vanishing native fish. The area is a popular boating and birdwatching destination, with more than 200 bird species.