Federal agents to hunt feral cattle from helicopters in New Mexico
In the skies over the New Mexico wilderness this week, federal agents in helicopters plan to shoot and kill dozens of wild cattle officials say threaten protected lands and the safety of the public.
For the second year in a row, a final lawsuit by ranchers aims to halt aerial extermination efforts.
The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Assn. and the Humane Farming Assn. are calling for an injunction against the federal government to stop the shootings, saying the practice is “cruel and inhumane” and violates state and federal laws.
Gila National Forest Supervisor Camille Howes called the decision to shoot the cattle “difficult” but “necessary to protect public safety, the habitats of threatened and endangered species, water quality and the natural character of the Gila wilderness.”
“The wild cattle in the Gila Wilderness are aggressive towards wilderness visitors, graze year-round and trample on riverbanks and springs, causing erosion and sedimentation,” Howes said in a statement.
About 150 wild cattle roaming the Gila wilderness will be shot Thursday through Sunday, according to the US Forest Service agent at the Department of Agriculture. Wild cattle are those without labels, brands, or proprietary marks, according to the Forest Service.
It is the second year officials have issued kill warrants for unbranded cattle. Last year the forest service said it took out 65 feral cattle.
Ranchers also fear their branded cattle may have strayed into the wild after a heavy monsoon season thanks to damaged fences, according to the US Forest Service, which said it would work with ranchers to locate and remove their cattle from areas where they are not allowed.
The deadly removal of wild cattle has sparked intense debate among federal agencies, lawmakers, environmentalists and ranchers. Although most agree that the beasts are a nuisance, there is widespread disagreement as to how to get rid of them.
Last year, according to the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, many of the cattle shot by federal agents “were not killed immediately, but migrated, bled to death, and then died.”
A settlement reached after last year’s operation requires the US Forest Service to provide 75 days’ notice of any helicopter sniper operation, which it can conduct only if it “meets the procedural and physical requirements to justify such action.” , according to the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Assn.
The planned aerial shootings this week violate the terms of the deal, the rancher groups said, alleging that by conducting the shootings, the Forest Service violated New Mexico’s animal cruelty laws and the National Environmental Protection Act.
“Unfortunately, after a year of honoring our settlement agreement, we are back at square one,” Loren Patterson, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, said in a statement. “During the past year we have offered the forest service real solutions to the Gila-Estray problem. These solutions would address the immediate problem, provide a long-term solution, and would be humane.”
A hearing on the motion for a restraining order was scheduled for Wednesday.
The Gila National Forest covers more than 3 million acres in southwest New Mexico, and the Gila Wilderness, the world’s first designated wilderness, is home to an extensive trail network. Wild cattle have roamed the area since the 1970s, according to the Forest Service.
https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2023-02-22/feral-cattle-new-mexico-wilderness-federal-agents-hunt-helicopters Federal agents to hunt feral cattle from helicopters in New Mexico