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WWP sues to protect bighorn sheep in Arizona


This action challenges a decision by the United States Forest Service to permit private livestock companies to drive approximately 8,000 domestic sheep across the Tonto and Apache Sitgreaves National Forests in August and September of 2009. The sheep would be herded from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Springerville, Arizona to the northeastern corner of the Tonto National Forest near Heber, Arizona, and then diagonally across the entirety of the Tonto National Forest to its southwestern edge near Mesa. The trip takes about a month to complete.

Domestic sheep cause a number of environmental impacts to vegetation, soil productivity, and water quality, but perhaps most important is the effect domestic sheep have on wild bighorn sheep. Domestic sheep carry disease that is fatal to wild bighorn, and transmission of disease from domestic sheep to wild bighorn sheep is a well-documented occurrence that has devastated many bighorn sheep populations in the American West. The sheep drive crosses directly through occupied wild bighorn habitat, and a single contact between a wild bighorn and a domestic sheep could cause a substantial or even total die-off of the local population of wild bighorns. Wild bighorn sheep are gregarious, curious animals and are known to approach and make physical contact with domestic sheep.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service has for many years permitted this sheep drive to occur, once in the spring (from south to north) and once in the fall (from north to south). But the Forest Service has never completed an environmental analysis of the impacts of this action as they are required to do under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).

Because this action presents obvious, immediate, and potentially devastating harm to important and rare populations of wild bighorn sheep as well as the more common impacts upon water quality, wildlife habitat, and soil productivity caused by livestock grazing of this nature, an environmental assessment, at a minimum, is required. Federal actions of this nature are not permitted to occur absent an environmental review under the NEPA. Moreover, the continued use of this driveway is preventing proper management of wild bighorn sheep and preventing their reintroduction in formerly occupied habitats.

Western Watersheds Project seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to remedy the Forest Service’s violations of law, to correct ongoing irreparable harm, and to prevent further irreparable harm to the water quality, soil productivity, wildlife habitat, and wildlife populations resulting from the Forest Service’s actions. Plaintiff Western Watersheds Project brings this challenge under the National Forest Management Act (“NFMA”) and its regulations, the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and its regulations, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

Read the Complaint

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