TUCSON (CN) – The U.S. Forest Service is letting cattle overgraze a unique Arizona riparian area hosting a number of threatened and endangered species, environmentalists say. The Chiricahua leopard frog is “teetering on extirpation” at Fossil Creek due to livestock grazing and drought, the Center for Biological Diversity says.
The Forest Service, despite admitting that the Fossil Creek Range allotment is suffering degradation from cattle, overruled recommendations of its own employees and staff from other agencies in authorizing unsustainable grazing levels at a 2007 meeting, the environmentalists say.
A 2009 environmental assessment allows up to 483 head of cattle to graze there, without examining any baseline data on the condition of habitat and riparian areas, the center claims.
A biological opinion, also from 2009, wrongly concluded that grazing at Fossil Creek does not jeopardize the frog, and failed to quantify take or set reconsultation triggers for the species, the group says.
The Chiricahua leopard frog apparently has two “precariously small” populations in the area – reduced from 10 in 2001.
Other threatened and endangered species in the Fossil Creek area include the Mexican spotted owl, Yuma clapper rail, Southwestern willow flycatcher and Sonoran bald eagle.
The center seeks reversal of the biological opinion and immediate declaratory and injunctive relief. It is represented by Todd Tucci of Advocates for the West from Boise, Idaho.
A riparian oasis in piñon-juniper lands on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, Fossil Creek’s creamy emerald-colored, travertine waters, high in mineral content, leave deposits on rocks resembling fossils. In 2006, a power plant along Fossil Creek was closed, restoring stream flow. The river was designated as Wild and Scenic in 2009.
The Chiricahua leopard frog, in addition to being threatened by habitat loss – up to 95 percent of riparian areas in the Southwest have disappeared – also is threatened by a devastating fungus.