SUMMIT COUNTY — As so many times before, a federal court has overturned a U.S. Forest Service grazing permit because federal land managers violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The court ruling at least temporarily blocks cattle grazing on 42,000 acres in the Fossil Creek watershed on the Coconino National Forest in central Arizona. The drainage is a stronghold for threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs. Download a copy of the ruling here. The Forest Service has made great efforts to help with the recovery of the frogs elsewhere in Arizona.
The permit holder, J.P. Morgan-Chase & Co., which maintains interests in the historic Ward Ranch of Rimrock, Ariz., reintroduced about 290 cows in September 2009.
“Fossil Creek is one of the Southwest’s most important river reaches,” said Taylor McKinnon, with the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff. “The court’s ruling is a victory for this beautiful creek, its diverse array of native species and the public investments that have been made to recover them. In authorizing this grazing plan, the feds gave Fossil Creek and its endangered species short shrift in favor of J.P. Morgan-Chase,” McKinnon said. “We’re glad the court is demanding a course correction.”
The court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately consider the potential effects of cattle grazing on the threatened species when it issued a “biological opinion” authorizing the grazing plan.
The court also ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately quantify the amount of incidental “take,” or harm, to the leopard frog, and failed to analyze the effect of the approved plan on the frog’s chances of recovery — all violations of the Endangered Species Act.
“The court’s ruling is significant because it will help protect the last known population of Chiricahua leopard frogs on the Red Rock Ranger District,” said Todd Tucci, a senior attorney at Advocates for the West who argued the case on behalf of the Center.
The court also ruled that the Forest Service violated NEPA by using inaccurate information to assess grazing impacts. Even though the Forest Service documented unsatisfactory, impaired or inherently unstable soil conditions across 96 percent of the allotment, rangers authorized the grazing.
In its environmental assessment, the Forest Service documented unsatisfactory, impaired or inherently unstable soil conditions across 96 percent of the allotment, with only 4 percent of the soils in satisfactory condition. Soil loss in the allotment is currently about 35 percent above normal, causing eight tons of soil loss per hectare annually. Today, 60 percent to 87 percent of the allotment is in declining range condition.