Grazing threatens Arizona’s wildlife


By Bob Witzeman


“Do we really have to destroy tomorrow in order to live today?” – a 10-year-old fifth–grader asked ex-Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.



Some 116 faunal species in Arizona are listed as threatened or endangered by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) in their publication: Wildlife of Special Concern in Arizona,” draft, Dec. 13, 1996.  Of these 116 species AGFD cited cattle grazing as one of the factors in the imperilment of 56 of those species. Introduction of exotic fish, crayfish, and bullfrogs, not just cows, have also played major roles in species imperilments here.  In addition, your conservation chair has included 12 fish and 5 herps omitted by AGFD.


While some of these 116 species may be common elsewhere, their status and survival as a species in Arizona is the reason for their inclusion. The habitat of many Arizona amphibians, reptiles and native fish has been devastated by cattle in the past.  Ironically, today, cattle tanks and water catchments allow some species to eke out a survival.  This is like the hit-and-run driver providing intensive care, life support for their comatose victim.


Grazing as an impact in endangerment of 23 out of 29 of Arizona’s T&E listed avian species:

1. American Bittern - “riparian overgrazing” p.24, AGFD

2. Least Bittern - “riparian overgrazing” p. 24, AGFD

3. Bald Eagle “loss of…riparian…habitats [from overgrazing]” p. 25, AGFD

4. Swainson’s Hawk - “grazing practices” p. 26, AGFD

5. Ferruginous H. - “prairie dog control programs” by ranchers p. 26, AGFD

6. Northern Aplomado Falcon – EXTIRPATED “reduce cattle grazing” p. 26, AGFD

7. Masked Bobwhite – EXTIRPATED “overgrazing” p. 27, AGFD

8. Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo “overgrazing” p. 28, AGFD

9. Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl “manage grazing” p 28, AGFD

10. Elegant Trogon – “riparian and adjacent slope grazing” p. 29, AGFD

11. Green Kingfisher – “upland grazing” p. 29, AGFD

12. SW Willow Flycatcher – “overgrazing in riparian habitats” 30, AGFD

13. Buff-breasted Flycatcher - “fire suppression” [due to overgrazing] p. 30, AGFD

14. Thick-billed Kingbird – “overgrazing” p. 30, AGFD

15. Rose-throated Becard – “overgrazing” p. 31, AGFD

16. Azure Bluebird – “overgrazing” p. 31, AGFD

17. Veery – “riparian overgrazing” p. 31, AGFD

18. Swainson’s Thrush – “riparian grazing” p. 31, AGFD

19. Gray Catbird – “overgrazing by livestock” p. 32, AGFD

20. Sprague’s Pipit – “overgrazing” p. 32, AGFD

21. Baird’s Sparrow – “overgrazing” p. 32, AGFD

22. Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow – “reduce cattle grazing” p. 33, AGFD

23. Five-striped Sparrow – “overgrazing of slopes & canyons” 33, AGFD


Logging, by comparison, impacts only 3 out of 29 of Arizona’s T&E avian species:

1. Goshawk - “removal of large…trees…timber management.” p. 25, AGFD

2. Mexican Spotted Owl – “timber harvest” p. 29, AGFD

3. Thick-billed Parrot – “logging” p. 28, AGFD

Grazing as an impact in endangerment of 21 out of 25 of Arizona’s T&E listed Native Fish:

1.  Mexican Stoneroller “habitat loss and degradation due to overgrazing” p. 9, AGFD

2. Yaqui Shiner “habitat loss and degradation due to overgrazing” p. 9, AGFD

3.  Sonora Chub “Channel degradation, siltation, and water pollution by overgrazing” p. 10, AGFD

4.  Gila Chub - W.L. Minckley

5.  Yaqui Chub “habitat loss and degradation due to overgrazing” p. 11, AGFD

6.  Roundtail Chub W.L Minckley

7.  Virgin Chub W.L. Minckley

8.  Roundtail Chub W.L. Minckley

9.  Virgin Chub W.L. Minckley

10. Virgin Spinedace W.L. Minckley

11. Little Colorado Spinedace W.L. Minckley

12. Spikedace W.L. Minckley

13. Loach Minnow W.L. Minckley

14. Yaqui Sucker “habitat loss and degradation due to overgrazing” p. 14, AGFD

15. Yaqui Catfish EXTIRPATED “habitat degradation due to overgrazing” p. AGFD

16. Apache Trout “erosion, sedimentation” [grazing a factor] p. 15, AGFD

17. Gila Trout “erosion, sedimentation” [grazing a factor] p. 16, AGFD

18. Quitobaquito Pupfish W.L. Minckley

19. Gila Topminnow W.L. Minckley

20. Yaqui Topminnow “habitat loss and degradation due to overgrazing” p. 17, AGFD

21. Monkey Springs Pupfish EXTINCT, W.L. Minckley


Grazing as a factor in the endangerment of 10 of Arizona’s 20 T&E listed herpetiformes:

1.      Plains Leopard Frog F.J. Welsh

2.      Chiricahua Leopard Frog F.J. Welsh

3.      Northern Leopard Frog F.J. Welsh

4.      Lowland Leopard Frog F.J. Welsh

5.      Desert Tortoise “overgrazing” p. 25, AGFD

6.      Arizona Striped Whiptail “encourage ranchers to maintain…habitat” p. 22, AGFD

7.      Bunch Grass Lizard “disappears from sites that are heavily grazed” p. 22, AGFD

8.      Ridgenose Rattlesnake “overgrazing” p. 23, AGFD

9.      Massasauga “grazing reduction of bunchgrass cover” p. 23, AGFD

10.  Mexican Garter Snake “loss of cienegas and…preferred wetland habitats” p. 23, AGFD


Grazing as a factor in the endangerment of 14 of Arizona’s 21 T&E listed mammals

1.      Water Shrew “intense high elevation grazing along streambanks” p. 34, AGFD

2.      Western Red Bat “loss of riparian and other broad-leaved deciduous forest due to trampling of stream banks and increased erosion associated with grazing…” p. 35, AGFD

3.      Western Yellow Bat “degradation of riparian woodlands due to trampling of stream banks and increased erosion associated with grazing” p. 35, AGFD

4.      Black-tailed Prairie Dog EXTIRPATED “by livestock industry” p. 36, AGFD

5.      New Mexican Banner-tailed Kangeroo Rat “intense livestock grazing” p. 37, AGFD

6.      Hualapai Mexican Vole “grazing” p. 37, AGFD

7.      Navajo Mexican Vole “grazing by livestock” p. 37, AGFD

8.      Mesquite Mouse “livestock grazing” p. 37, AGFD

9.      Meadow Jumping Mouse “intense livestock grazing” p. 38, AGFD

10.  Mexican Wolf “extirpated…by livestock industry” p. 38, AGFD

11.  Grizzly Bear “conflicts with humans and livestock industry” p. 38, AGFD

12.  Black-footed Ferret “control programs…livestock industry” p. 39, AGFD

13.  Jaguar “conflicts with livestock industry” p. 39, AGFD

14.  Sonoran Pronghorn “livestock grazing” p. 39, AGFD


Grazing as a factor in the endangerment of 4 of Arizona’s 21 T&E listed invertebrates

1.      Yavapai Mountain Snail “livestock grazing” p. 5, AGFD

2.      Bylas Springsnail “livestock grazing” p. 6, AGFD

3.      Grand Wash Springsnail “ livestock use” p. 6, AGFD

4.      Three Forks Springsnail “habitat degradation due to livestock” p. 7, AGFD



23 out of 29 birds

21 out of 25 fish

10 out of 20 herpetiformes

14 out of 21 mammals

  4 out of 21 invertebrates 

72 out of 116 Arizona T&E species impacted by cattle grazing


Passing a law in Congress to allow voluntarily, market-priced retirement of federal public lands (BLM and USFS) grazing allotments is not far fetched.  There are many willing sellers for this dying industry here in the arid West. The glorious beauty and re-wilding of our West can return.  The 23 birds impacted by public lands cattle grazing here in Arizona could again find freedom.  Our mountains, streams, and deserts can return to their former majesty and vitality.


Public lands grazing produces only 2% of the nation’s beef.  It does so at a net loss of some half a billion dollars annually to U.S. taxpayers. Hence, voluntary buy-out/retirement would save tax dollars.  More beef is produced in Iowa than all the public lands in the West.  Public lands grazing is a destructive anachronism whose time has past.



Photo caption:

The Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, threatened by public lands riparian grazing, stream diversions and development, is desperately fighting for its survival in the Southwest.


Photo credit:  Jim Burns