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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Environmentalists Challenge Desert Grazing

PHOENIX (CN) - The Bureau of Land Management's approval of yearlong livestock grazing on 643,000 acres near Yuma will devastate habitats of the Sonoran bald eagle and the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, the Western Watersheds Project claims in Federal Court.

The environmental group says that grazing will deplete the soil. Grazing in the desert can reduce the land to a condition known as desert concrete - bare of vegetation, and baked hard as rock by the sun.

If the land is not stripped completely the Watersheds Project says, the owl and eagle and other animals will be hurt by livestock grazing "through trampling, erosion of the soil, competition for scarce forage, or, most importantly, through the introduction and spread of invasive, nonnative vegetation that alters the natural fire regime and can result in widespread and permanent damage to the Sonoran desert."

The group claims the nonnative vegetation introduced through grazing may be "nearly impossible" to remove and will increase flammability, causing foreign grasses to thrive and killing native species.

Livestock grazing also tramples microbiotic crusts, which may be "long lasting or even permanent, because soil development and nutrient cycling in arid environments is a slow and fragile process," the Watersheds Project says.

The group claims the BLM almost ignored the environmental impacts of yearlong grazing, devoting "only a half dozen or so pages in two thick volumes ... to discussing the effects of livestock grazing, and the bulk of those pages involve the potential economic impacts to livestock operators from permitting or not permitting livestock grazing to occur."

A thorough analysis is required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Watersheds Project claims the BLM violated the NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act. It wants the decision reversed, and a decent environmental analysis done.

The group is represented by Erik Ryberg of Tucson.

Follow @jamierossCNS
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