The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) in Arizona is a rarity. It’s a patch of lush green in an otherwise desolate desert area. People have long congregated at the conservation area to watch migrating birds and other wildlife. As of June 29th, a good-sized portion of the Riparian National Conservation Area has been designated for something far less enjoyable than bird and wildlife watching.
The Bureau of Land Management has greenlit a plan that will set aside 19,000 acres of land for livestock grazing. While the livestock industry accounts for a lot of revenue and jobs, watching cattle graze is not exactly what folks visiting a conservation area are looking for.
The decision comes as a bit of a conundrum (though it’s certainly not the first of it’s kind, especially since the current administration took over). The Bureau of Land Management was assigned, by Congress, the task of preserving and protecting landscapes like the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. In an area where drought, groundwater depletion, climate change and even border militarization is threatening the conservation of a protected area, the cattle grazing approval seems extremely counterproductive to the task assigned by Congress.
The decision to increase livestock grazing will undoubtedly bring more heavy machinery into the area, increasing carbon production. Plus, that heavy machinery will be used to drastically alter the landscape. Herbicides will no doubt be used to ensure the grass is conducive for grazing, which, in turn, can affect groundwater.
Livestock grazing has essentially been banned in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area for the past 30 years. However, cattle have managed to find their way onto the protected land many times in that period, and in most cases, the effects haven’t been promising. Cattle grazing can cause an increase in soil depletion. If that depletion occurs on a larger scale, it could affect the water quality in the San Pedro River.
The SPRNCA is home to 18 endangered and threatened animals. When more than a third of the conservation area will be altered, it could be potentially damaged to these species’ livelihood. With that said, there will be plenty of conservation organizations keeping an eye on the rollout of the Bureau of Land Management’s most recent decision.