Sonoran Desert National Monument preservation effort moves forward

Sonoran Desert National Monument.  Photo: BLM
Sonoran Desert National Monument. Photo: BLM

Last Friday WWP won a reversal of a previous court decision that would have held that Presidents have the authority to designate – but not direct management of – national monuments.

Preservation and the President: A Positive Development in the Sonoran Desert – Ti Hays, PreservationNation

Last Friday, in a positive development, a federal district court in Arizona reversed a previous decision that held that President Clinton had exceeded his authority by including management directives in the proclamation for the Sonoran Desert National Monument.

The case began when an environmental group — the Western Watersheds Project — filed a lawsuit claiming that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had taken too long to prepare a resource management plan and grazing suitability analysis for the Sonoran Desert. President Clinton created the 486,149-acre monument in 2001 through a proclamation authorized by the Antiquities Act of 1906.

WWP sought to enforce very explicit conservation directives that then President Clinton had included in designating the Sonoran Desert National Monument.  The judge’s previous interpretation of law could have rendered many national monument designations largely impotent from a conservation perspective.  Fortunately, the judge thought twice and reversed that decision.

Grazing on the Sonoran Desert National Monument © Greta Anderson, WWP
Grazing on the Sonoran Desert National Monument © Greta Anderson, WWP

BLM has maintained livestock grazing on the Sonoran Desert National Monument even after designation.   Public land ranching is ecologically & economically irresponsible on this desert landscape and is resulting in excessive abuse to to the wildlife and native species character of the monument that President Clinton explicitly sought to preserve with his designation and directives.

More specificially, when the Sonoran Desert National Monument (photos) was established by President Clinton in 2001, the Proclamation specifically identified the rich biodiversity of the Sand Tank Mountains, and attributed this richness to the long-term absence of livestock grazing. The Proclamation also stated that this management should be extended to the other areas of the Monument “to the fullest extent possible.”

Our public lands and this fragile National Monument are worth more than cheap forage for feedlot operators. Our public lands- and the imperiled species such desert bighorn sheep, Sonoran pronghorn, Sonoran desert tortoise, and many other birds, reptiles, and plants that rely upon these places as habitat – deserve more than denuded moonscapes.



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  1. April Clauson Avatar
    April Clauson

    As an person that lives in AZ, I am happy to hear this. Cattle here have no place. They often die very sad deaths, no water, no real food to eat, and the ranchers just keep letting them loose and think that when it is time for round up all will be fine. Now if only other states can do this also!. I hope this will seriously make cattle ranchers think about what they do and maybe even move to Texas, oh that would be nice…

  2. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    This is great news–the hot arid SW deserts are no place for domestic livestock.

    And I agree with April about where these ranchers shoud head. Earlier this year, I drove through TX and OK–howling winds, dessicated lands, boarded up towns. If cattle have to be somewhere, these seem like good spots for them. Unless we can get the buffalo restored, but that’s probably a pipe dream in our lifetimes.

  3. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    I am surprised that people want to raise cattle in places like that. It seems like abuse to me. too bad buffalo restoration is probably a pipe dream. If you sold it to people as a hunting opportunity I wonder what would happen.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The original decision was pretty scary. So I’m really glad the judge thought some and reversed herself.

  5. Maska Avatar

    ProWolf, I’m not sure about this, but I seem to recall reading that bison weren’t native to the Sonoran Desert, either, and that in fact, there weren’t any really large grazing animals in that ecosystem. Can somebody provide some info on this question?

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Bison did not graze the Sonoran, nor much of the Great Basin desert.

    As a result the argument that cows are just replacing bison is doubly wrong.

  7. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears


    I am going to have to disagree just a bit on where Bison historically ranged, and there is quite a bit of overlap in historic ranges and the Sonoran Desert, there have been many artifacts found that show the Bison did use these areas…

    But I will agree, it is not suitable area for the grazing of domestic livestock..

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Brian Ertz