Summer in Arizona reminds us all of the area’s most precious habitat: riparian forests that provide cool, canopied respite from the blazing sun. The cool, clear waters and the shade trees are valuable not just for humans looking for a break from the desert glare, but for the unique and special wildlife species that call our region home. Protecting these habitats is a primary focus for sustaining biodiversity in our deserts, and reducing unnecessary threats to the water quantity and quality is a major goal of conservationists throughout the southwest.

So why then is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service backing down on ensuring the ecological integrity of riparian areas on the four public lands grazing allotments leased by Rosemont Mine on the Coronado National Forest? In an article published in the Arizona Daily Star last week, reporter Tony Davis identifies several suspicious changes between the draft and final Biological Opinion for the mine.

The Service dropped several reasonable mitigation measures from its final biological opinion for the mine, including a measure that would have kept cattle out of the riparian habitats, a well-known method of improving riparian health, allowing for tree regeneration, improved water quality and protecting soils along the river banks. The science behind this management practice is well-established, but it doesn’t take a degree to see or smell the difference between a cow-bombed creek and a protected riparian forest. Southern Arizonans flock to riparian recreational sites that exclude cattle from the waterways (Sabino Canyon, Madera Canyon, etc.) and, it turns out, so do species like the yellow-billed cuckoo.

Riparian livestock exclusion is a common practice in the West, so the Service’s willingness to let an international mining company keep on grazing its token livestock on these habitats on our public lands is even more mysterious. It isn’t like Hudbay’s profits are tied to their cows’ ability to chomp native trees, stomp on wet soils and foul these washes. It would seem that keeping cattle out of riparian areas on the four allotments is the least the mining giant could do, and the Service’s timidity on retaining this small measure is truly pathetic. Excluding cattle from the four allotments all together wouldn’t be unreasonable, but it looks like the agency can’t even limit grazing in the most sensitive habitat.

Add this excised measure from the Final BiOp to the other changes that throw ‘protected’ species under the bus – removing provisions to protect groundwater and surface flows, preventing non-native species infestations, and ensuring broader conservation in the watershed – and it makes you wonder for whom the Service’s Arizona Field Supervisor is really working. Here’s a hint: It doesn’t seem to be imperiled species.

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About The Author

Greta Anderson

Greta Anderson is a plant nerd, a desert rat, and a fan of wildness. She is the Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project.

6 Responses to Why let a multinational mining company graze livestock in Arizona’s precious creeks?

  1. avatar Yvette says:

    That’s odd. Why is a foreign mining company grazing their cattle on our public lands in the first place? Who has the lease on the four allotments and what laws do we have regarding foreign owned businesses buying grazing leases on our public lands?

  2. avatar Nancy says:

    Excellent question, Yvette!

    Would be willing to bet there are a lot of huge, private properties (around the west) being bought up by foreign interests, that include leases (in the purchase price) on public lands.

    I guess as long as they are “American” cattle, doing the grazing, no hint of impropriety? 🙂

    http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/02/12/land-grabs-at-home

    • avatar Yvette says:

      Remember the issue with Oak Flats in AZ? Obama got a stay when he designated it as national historic site. That halted the ‘trading’ of the Oak Flats area for other land that was didn’t even compare. At least for the time being.

      It is mind boggling to me that an international/foreign company can purchase grazing leases. I’m sure McCain, Flake and Gosar have their dirt in this deal. Even if an American is part owner there needs to be checks and balances to protect our public land.

      • avatar Neal says:

        flake’s WORK HISTORY IS A MINING LOBBYIST AND NOW HE IS A US SENATOR WHO IS A MINING LOBBYIST….. The “HITS” just keep on coming….. 🙁 Now what’s even worse is the “PUSH” to turn over federal lands to the states and you know the taxpayers will be locked out of what used to be forests owned by corporations….:(

  3. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    I think businesses have seen that the way to have no or very little oversight or regulation of lands is to graze cattle as a shell company.

  4. avatar Fred Alvey, Jr. says:

    This is just one more example of the global scourge that threatens our existence. I call it the ‘monkey trap’ syndrome.Even the knowledge that he is about to become the prime ingredient of a stew is not enough to make the monkey let go of those coveted peanuts, pull his hand from the heavy jug, and flee the approaching trapper. Avarice is stronger than even self-preservation. Only strong law enforcement(and agencies like U.S.F.W.S. doing the jobs WE pay them for)will reverse this horrible trend.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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