Bad news for Arizona’s San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area Announced

The Proposed Plan of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is Announced
The Bureau of Land Management intends to reopen much of the protected area to cattle grazing

TUCSON, Arizona— This morning, the Bureau of Land Management released a long-awaited draft plan for managing the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), signaling its intention to open an additional 19,000 acres to livestock grazing.

“People visit the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area to bird watch, enjoy the cool riparian canopy, look for wildlife, and to appreciate the beauty of this ‘ribbon of green’ in the desert,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “Nobody comes for the cowpies. It’s unfortunate that BLM is proposing to risk all the other values that make this place unique for the sake of a handful of ranchers.”

This national conservation area faces a myriad of threats, including drought, development and groundwater pumping, border militarization, climate change, and livestock grazing. In establishing the conservation area, Congress charged the BLM with an affirmative duty to conserve, protect, and enhance this amazing and diverse landscape. Yet, the draft plan proposes management actions, such as increased grazing, that run afoul of Congress’ mandate and are sure to degrade this special place.

“The San Pedro River is a true gem – an oasis in the desert that supports a rich array of species, including millions of migratory songbirds,” said Earthjustice attorney Stuart Gillespie. “Rather than conserving, protecting, and enhancing this riparian area, as mandated by Congress, BLM is proposing to remove long-standing protections in the name of more livestock grazing, more herbicide use, and more heavy equipment to remove vegetation. This ‘all-of-the-above’ management strategy runs contrary to Congress’ mandate and would degrade this special place.”

The SPRNCA has been legally off limits to most livestock grazing since 1989. According to the new plan, the BLM would increase livestock grazing in upland areas with soils that have a severe susceptibility to erosion caused by grazing, which would then have impacts on water quality within the San Pedro River. Given that trespass livestock have been an ongoing problem for nearly twenty years, it is likely that more of the riparian area will be impacted than the BLM has anticipated.

“To allow decades of conservation to be eaten away by allowing cattle to decimate the San Pedro’s vegetation and to harm wildlife, including imperiled plants and animals, is unconscionable,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “We must do everything we can to protect this amazing, yet fragile, national conservation area.”

Tricia Gerrodette, a Sierra Vista resident who has advocated for the protection of the San Pedro River and SPRNCA for many years also expressed concerns about the possibility of increased grazing. “Increased grazing in the uplands of the SPRNCA will not help the health of the watershed for the river, which should also be part of the conservation values of the SPRNCA that need to be protected. BLM will need to produce studies that support the idea of grazing and healthy native grasslands in the uplands.”

Western Watersheds Project and Sierra Club will be closely monitoring the forthcoming planning process in conjunction with Earthjustice and other organizations.


The 56,000-acre conservation area was designated by Congress as the nation’s first Riparian National Conservation Area on November 18, 1988. It starts at the US-Mexico border and continues north about 47 miles along the San Pedro River, supporting a riparian area that includes four of the rarest habitat types in the Southwest – Fremont cottonwood/Goodding willow forests, cienegas, big sacaton grasslands, and mesquite bosques. The SPRNCA is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area attracting birders from all over the world and providing habitat for more than 400 species of birds. Within the last 150 years, more than 80 species of mammals have called the SPRNCA home, making it one of the richest assemblages of land mammal species in the world. The SPRNCA also supports more than 50 species of reptiles and amphibians and has historically supported 13 species of native fishes. Today, only two native fish remain in the river, the longfin dace and desert sucker.

The SPRNCA provides habitat for 18 federally listed, or proposed, threatened and endangered species, including designated critical habitat for the endangered Huachuca water umbel (Lilaeopsis schaffneriana ssp. recurva) and proposed critical habitat for northern Mexican gartersnake (Thamnophis eques megalops) and yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). Designated critical habitat for southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) occurs on the San Pedro River downstream of the SPRNCA, and designated critical habitat for the jaguar (Panthera onca) occurs approximately three miles west of the SPRNCA.


Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife across the Intermountain West.

Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. Because the earth needs a good lawyer.

Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club is a national nonprofit environmental organization with approximately 2.7 million members and supporters, including more than 60,000 in Arizona. Sierra Club’s mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.


  1. Gail Avatar

    Zinke needs a big fat cow pie dumped on his head – for starters. So much damage in so little time.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Just unbelievable. Well, I hope it can be challenged.

  3. John R Avatar
    John R

    Not good. Beautiful area. Keep some areas pristine. There are 93 million cattle in the US. Tooooooo many, spread over the landscape. Eating too much Ted meat is not healthy. Cattle erode stream banks.

    1. Mat-ters Avatar

      I think we need to get private dollars to study why buffalo chips don’t cause the same hysteria as cow pies….if we can figure that out there may be hope to find the link between hate tethered towards our good friend Mr Zinke and the intermittent love his predecessor Jewel.

      1. Rich Avatar


        You must be smoking some of those funny cigs again if you think there are thousands of bison in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona. Even if there were it doesn’t make sense to replace native wildlife species trying to exist on our public lands with invasive species so that a handful of subsidized farmers can benefit while the remainder of Americans end up paying to restore the damaged landscape and the displaced T&E species. And yes farmers using public lands are heavily subsidized by giveaway grazing fees, fencing, water developments, predator control and all the rest with our taxes to ensure cattle can survive in a landscape not suited to their inbred domestic genetics.

        1. Mat-ters Avatar

          richy, as a very successful conservative has said, “I’ll tie half my brain behind my back… JUST… to make it fair.” (tongue in cheek)

          If it’s true that Lewis and Clark took two days to ride past a herd of 60 million 1000 to 2000 lb bison on their trek through NW US …. how did the ecosystems handle such destruction and water contamination?

          If predators have proven to be an ineffective herd manager of bison & the historic manager of any significance was humans…. does it make sense to allow humans to reduce bison numbers to match habitat in the name of “natural”?

          Antelope Island is a place where a cattle herd was replaced with wildish bison, both managed by humans… much better off are the ecosystems of Antelope island now that bison are on board?

          1. Rich Avatar

            Mat-trds – It is a good thing you only used half your brain for your disjointed, rambling reply otherwise you would have been declared brain dead.

            1. Mat-ters Avatar

              Richy, I’m sorry my loquacious questions have disjointed your brain….. Rehabilitating those questions to your level may be below my pay grade. The questions still stand …take your time …. when you got some answers, I’m all ears, no hurry, you can do it!

      2. Nancy Avatar

        “Through bison excreta an entire population of micro-organisms and a rich insect community, including dung beetles and flies, are supported to help sustain a natural prairie”

        It would appear nature survived and well on buffalo dung. No comparison to the BS Zinke is flinging around.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Riparian conservation area and cattle grazing would seem not to be able to coexist. But that’s human nature for you; push forward and bend the environment to your will even under the worst possible circumstances.

    What about future drought? Besides setting back years of recovery, Arizona being arid and receiving very little rainfall makes this seem like very poor planning by the BLM for the future? (I am not familiar with this area.) In fact, it is appalling.

  5. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Speaking personally Mat-ters, I can only think of two Interior Secretaries in the country’s history that anyone could love – usually they are political appointments for anything but the actual job (like a former poker buddy of a president which resulted in the Teapot Dome scandal). The man who set the standard, Stewart Udall, and Bruce Babbitt, in my lifetime anyway, are the best.

    Zinke seems to be vying for the title of Worst held previously by James Watt, with his what seems to be almost gremlin-like glee in power and destruction, and a throwback to crony politics. Throw him back!

    🙁 I wasn’t impressed with Sally Jewell at all. Someone who likes to climb mountains isn’t the only prerequisite.

    1. Mat-ters Avatar

      Stewart Udall, “The Indians may have in their religion and culture a reverence for the land. But then they get into the pressures created by modern society. Unless they are reasonably well-educated, they can’t deal with them.”

      That comment from Udall could be parleyed here…. couldn’t it Ida…. wink!

    2. Debra K Avatar
      Debra K

      Cecil Andrus. Read “The Snail Darter and the Dam” and you will see a Dept. of Interior that took its obligations under the ESA and other laws seriously.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        I stand corrected. 🙂

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          I should say I happily stand corrected!

          People criticize the Carter administration, but environmentally it was probably one of the best. The 60s and 70s were when some of our best and most basic environmental and wildlife protection laws were established, along with civil and human rights.

          Today, neither party really seems to care about the environment and wildlife.

  6. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    If the Democrats had not chickened out in impeaching Trump the behavior of the BLM and other agencies might not be so bold in violating environmental law.

    It is time to call for a 100% removal of livestock from public land and a 100% removal of the president.

    I think it was Chris Hedges that said ” I don’t fight fascists because I think I am going to win- I fight them because they ARE fascists”.

    1. timz Avatar

      Bruce, head back to 8th grade civics class and learn what it takes to impeach a president.

  7. Isabel Cohen, Environmental Activist/Artist Avatar
    Isabel Cohen, Environmental Activist/Artist

    This is ignorance at its very best!!!

  8. BB Avatar

    “If you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual, it is certain that you will create a despotic government to be your master”. Frank Herbert

    It requires integrity, an anti-hypocritical attitude and the willingness to expose and denounce the false and corrupt to impeach a president. It seems that these qualities are now as rare as a desert salamander in a drought.

    But if you agree with the slave master what else can you be but the slave.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan