The Verde River agreement affects 140 miles (225 kilometers) of streams and 22 ranching allotments in Northern Arizona. Two similar settlements this year affect the White Mountains in Eastern Arizona and the Gila River watershed spanning the Arizona-New Mexico state line.

Cattlemen say the federal government is already overextended managing the forests and other lands they control.

“At the end of the day, the US Forest Service doesn’t have a good track record,” said Patrick Bray, executive vice president at the Arizona Farm and Ranch Group, which represents many cattle ranchers. “It’s going to take maintaining fence, it’s going to take working with permittees and others to make sure that you meet it.”

Bray and others say the federal government is being hamstrung by environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, and that many of the cows that are causing damage are unbranded, wild cattle that no one owns.

“The Center for Biological Diversity, they’re a radical left wing group. And they do what they can to get rid of cows,” said Steve Pierce, a former state lawmaker who owns a ranch north of Prescott. “But the other side of it, the cows aren’t destroying nearly as much of the habitat as the forest fires.”

Pierce said if the federal government allowed enough cattle grazing and other uses, there would be fewer fires and better habitat for endangered species.

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