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Forest Service Guns Down “Feral” Cattle

Courtesy of Center for Biological Diversity

Forest Service Guns Down “Feral” Cattle – Todd Helms

Aerial gunning of roughly 200 “feral cattle” in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest is set to begin today amid concern and opposition from the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and others. The announcement of this plan was made by the Forest Service on February 16th and was met immediately with a lawsuit from the NMCGA for stoppage of the plan due to the agency’s failure to provide a 75 day notice. 

Sigh. . . There is so much I want to opine about on this one so hold onto your hats because I’m climbing my soap box. 

  1. Why is it okay for the National Forest Service to carry out aerial gunning operations for “feral cattle” on public land under their purview but the BLM can’t do the same exact thing, for the same exact reasons with feral horses on public land under their watch? Does it have anything to do with being under the Department of Agriculture vs the Department of the Interior? I say neigh. . . I mean, Nay!

I’m betting it’s because cattle aren’t “cool”. Horses are the glamorous invasive species and it’s not acceptable to shoot them out of an airplane or even slaughter them. Which makes no sense considering there’s a market for horse meat around the globe. Both species are highly destructive to habitat and pose potential threats to public land recreationists and motorists. So why the division? 

I discovered much of the same nonsensical policy when creating the Eastmans’/Wingmen Sage Grouse film project when it came to the treatment of the West’s Cheatgrass epidemic. The Forest Service is authorized to use a highly effective herbicide to control and eliminate Cheatgrass but the BLM is not, it’s a head scratcher much like euthanizing feral cattle but not feral horses.

      2. How have 200 cattle been allowed to turn feral in the first place? Now, I’m not a cattle producer and admittedly, I’m not a big fan of cattle grazing in National Forests, (go ahead, throw your fruit) but I understand the reason for it and cherish our national, multiple use ethos regarding public lands. 

Back to my confusion about cattle living on public lands, a.k.a. National Forest – the grazing allotments that I’m familiar with in the National Forests of Wyoming require routine maintenance of fences and have start and end dates for grazing. This program is designed to benefit the forest via limited grazing and the good it’s known to do: “log it, graze it or watch it burn”. The parameters are designed so that cattle may be retrieved by cattle producers, ensuring that none are left behind. 

So that leads me to assume (dangerous, I know) that there’s a gap in the metaphorical fence down there in New Mexico. Rules haven’t been followed and 200 feral cattle in the Gila National Forest is the result. Now, there are always two sides to a story and I’m certain this one is no different. Somehow cattle have been left behind and have turned feral and the management of these cattle now falls to the agency in charge but is aerial gunning the best method? It seems to me that roundups and feed traps could be a better tool for removal of these cattle but, I’m not on the ground down there so I welcome folks with a sharper perspective to help me understand this conundrum. 

Whether this action sets a dangerous precedent or not remains to be seen but I do know when I see a double standard and this one is so obvious it’s ridiculous. Shooting feral cattle but not feral horses? 

Things that make you go hmmm.

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  1. Could not agree more ! What a joke, feral horses are much more of a blight on the natural landscape in comparison to cattle. Creating wild horse research areas. Really ?. What a scourge when u spend weeks hunting an area and see the dramatic effects on native wildlife interaction with feral horses. Cattle are drastically less impactful. Why allow wild horse management but not wild cattle ? Hmmm ? Compare the likelihood of increased feral (non native/don’t belong on native landscape) horses that will breed infinitely, — to cattle – likely no “bulls” / males (only cows/females) to increases in feral population it’s not even a comparison in terms of impact.

  2. Cogent article, per usual. I suspect there’s poor management practices with the Forest Service in New Mexico regarding livestock on public land. Put Western Wardsheds Project. on their scent and get stuff cleaned-up. And yes, get rid of feral horses.

  3. In parts of Alaska, hunters are allowed to harvest feral cattle for meat sounds like a good plan for other parts of the country.

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