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Conservation Group Blasts Forest Service Decision that Puts Cows in the Salt River Canyon Wilderness Area

For Immediate Release                                                                                       

October 21, 2022

Contacts:  Cyndi Tuell, (520) 272-2454, cyndi@westernwatersheds.org

TUCSON, Ariz.— Today, Western Watersheds Project objected to a recent Tonto National Forest decision to authorize industrial-scale livestock infrastructure in the Salt River Canyon Wilderness Area, within critical habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and razorback sucker, as well as the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo and habitat for the narrow-headed gartersnake. The project, known as the Hicks Pike Peak grazing authorization, permits up to 1,900 cattle, adds nearly six miles of fencing along the Salt River and allows cattle into areas that haven’t been grazed by livestock in over a decade.

“We are concerned that commercial livestock use is being expanded in some of the wildest and most ecologically important places in Arizona, and the Forest Service is not telling the public just how bad the impacts from cattle grazing really are,” said Cyndi Tuell, the Arizona and New Mexico director at Western Watersheds Project. “It’s a major reason that many of Arizona’s wildlife are in danger of extinction, and we’re concerned that special interests are dictating how public lands are being used.”  

This is the Tonto National Forest’s second attempt to authorize livestock grazing on the Hicks Pike Peak allotment. A 2021 decision was pulled after parties – including the Rockin Four Ranch, owned in part by Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner Bill Brake – objected. The Rockin Four Ranch opposed the Forest Service’s consideration for maintaining scenic viewsheds, setting minimum vegetation heights for wildlife habitat, and the requirements that they maintain wildlife escape ramps in livestock waters.

After the 2021 decision was withdrawn the Forest Service reissued a nearly identical decision in September 2022. The new decision authorizes between 650-800 adult cattle and between 700 and 1,100 weaned calves. To facilitate this many livestock the decision also authorizes nearly six miles of fencing within the Salt River Canyon Wilderness, new pasture fences throughout the area, cattle guards, pipelines, troughs, corrals, windmills, and storage tanks. The funding source of the newly approved infrastructure projects has not been disclosed.

A copy of the project map and WWP’s objection are available upon request.

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