For Immediate Release – May 11, 2020
Cyndi Tuell, Western Watersheds Project, 520-272-2454
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, 602-999-5790
Laurie Rule, Advocates for the West, 503-914-6388
Joe Trudeau, Center for Biological Diversity, 928-800-2472
TUCSON, Arizona – With many aspects of the Arizona economy shut down due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is fast-tracking a proposal to amend the Resource Management Plan for the Sonoran Desert National Monument to allow livestock grazing across more than 250,000 acres of the fragile desert ecosystem. The BLM has released a draft Environmental Assessment on this disastrous plan a mere 10 days after public comment closed on the proposal. In gross disregard for public involvement, the BLM has selected the maximum grazing alternative, despite the fact that every public comment submitted on the proposal asked the BLM to prohibit livestock grazing. The monument provides habitat for desert-adapted plant and animal species that are known to be harmed by livestock grazing, including providing the largest block of top-tier desert tortoise habitat in Arizona. In spite of this, the BLM is proposing to reopen most of the area to the beef industry.
“It’s astounding and disturbing that as Americans are dealing with real healthcare and employment crises, the BLM remains focused on opening public lands to exploitation by private interests,” said Cyndi Tuell, Western Watershed Project’s Arizona and New Mexico Director. “It’s a testament to their relentless push to dismantle environmental protections that they are releasing this plan so quickly after getting overwhelming feedback from the public to protect the monument.”
The proposal provides three alternatives that would sanction some level of livestock grazing and continued degradation of this national monument and the plants and animals that are part of this fragile desert ecosystem. Only one alternative would protect the monument and the natural and cultural resources found there from destruction by the livestock industry.
“We sued the BLM in 2014 because that plan broke the law by pushing forward with continued grazing on parts of the monument, while arbitrarily ignoring the science that demonstrates that livestock harm the irreplaceable resources found there,” said Tuell. “BLM’s new proposal simply jettisons the science altogether and reverts back to the bad old days where overgrazed deserts dominated this national treasure.”
The Sonoran Desert National Monument was designated in 2001 in order to protect the unique desert landscapes and habitat for imperiled wildlife such as cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, desert tortoise, Gila monsters, and bighorn sheep, as well as the impressive array of archeological and cultural resources.
“The proclamation designating the monument states that this place is ‘a magnificent example of an untrammeled Sonoran desert landscape,’” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) chapter. “Apparently, the BLM isn’t in favor of untrammeled landscapes and wants to allow grazing even on one of the driest, hottest national monuments in the Southwest and to the detriment of the plants and animals that inhabit the monument.”
“BLM’s plan to open up the Sonoran Desert National Monument to livestock grazing defies agency-funded science which concluded that there is no way to sustainably graze cattle in the desert,” said Joe Trudeau, Southwest Conservation Advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll fight tooth and nail to protect this iconic National Monument from the Trump Administrations efforts to monetize every last inch of our public lands.”
“We’ve been fighting for more than a decade to force BLM to fulfill its legal duties to protect this special place, yet it continues to flout the law in its livestock grazing management with this new proposal,” said Laurie Rule, the attorney who represented Western Watersheds Project and the Sierra Club in the previous litigation.
Friday’s announcement initiates a 30-day public comment period on the draft Environmental Assessment. Conservation groups encourage the public to ask the BLM to prohibit livestock grazing on these protected public lands. Comments can be emailed to BLM_AZ_PDO_SDNMgrazing@blm.gov . “We won’t let the federal government capitulate to special interests while ignoring the will of the people,” said Tuell.
The 496,000-acre monument is on the ancestral lands of the O’odham, Yavapai Apache, Cocopah, and Hohokam peoples. According to the BLM, the public has until June 6 to review and comment on the project. Information on the project is available at this link.