Grazing Banned Temporarily on Lands Affecting Endangered Owl

By Arthur H. Rotstein
Associated Press Writer

November 25, 2002

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A federal judge has issued an injunction that could temporarily ban cattle grazing on huge swaths of national forest land identified as nesting and foraging sites for the endangered Mexican spotted owl.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins' order blocking grazing in areas of Arizona and New Mexico was signed Thursday in response to a lawsuit by environmental groups who want to remove cattle from spotted owl habitat.

The injunction is set to kick in Jan. 22. But it won't go into effect if the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service complete a new biological review before then, Collins said.

The last such review, which resulted in amended grazing standards set by the Forest Service in 1996, took a couple of years to complete, said Jim Angell, an attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Those standards were designed to protect owl habitat and ensure its survival. Grazing threatens the owl by reducing its favorite prey, degrading streamside vegetation and slowing the growth of habitat favorable to the bird, environmentalists contend.

"Frankly, they may try to hurry this through so the time grazing is enjoined is shortened," Angell said Monday of the biological review. "My fear is they will try to rush this thing out as quickly as possible and, as a result, their analysis will be shoddy."

Collins didn't specify how many acres were included in the injunction, but Angell put the number at at least 200,000. Attorneys representing the Justice Department and the Arizona Cattle Growers Association didn't return calls seeking comment Monday.

Collin's injunction is the latest step in a long-running lawsuit over the owl habitat. Last month, he found that the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to prevent overgrazing on millions of acres of national forest in the two states.

The government or the Arizona Cattle Growers Association could appeal Collins' order. Art Morrison, a spokesman for the Forest Service's regional headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M., said officials haven't consulted with the Justice Department on the ruling yet.

AP-ES-11-25-02 2229EST

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