NM ranchers, USDA settle feral cattle case

Wild cow roaming near the river in Gila National Forest. The New Mexico Livestock Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture settled a lawsuit this week with an agreement by the Forest Service to give ranchers and the public ample notice before conducting more aerial shooting to remove feral livestock. (Robin Silver/Center for Biological Diversity)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Magazine

The New Mexico Ranch Association has settled a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could affect how the government manages feral cows on federal lands.

The separation agreement announced this week states that the US Forest Service must give at least 75 days’ notice to ranchers and the public before any aerial killing of feral livestock in the Gila National Forest for the next three years.

Association President Lauren Patterson said the settlement opens up the decision-making process for local stakeholders such as the New Mexico Board of Livestock and regional ranchers.

“Then we can come to a decision that most closely reflects the ethics and methods most commonly used by our producers,” Patterson told the newspaper.

“We can take these livestock and bring them into the food supply through more traditional means.”

The conflict began when the Forest Service proposed a plan in 2020 to shoot unbranded and unauthorized cows from helicopters in Gila.

In a two-day operation in February by the USDA Wildlife Services, they harvested more than 60 cows.

The Forest Service and several environmental groups said the animals need to be removed because they damage wilderness and overgraze areas in the river’s habitat.

The NMCGA unsuccessfully asked a federal court to stop the process.

Farm owners argued that airborne crews would not be able to distinguish between feral cows and branded cattle.

There are no active grazing allotments where cattle have been killed.

“Given the rugged terrain and proximity to the nearest active places, it is unlikely that domesticated livestock moved into the area from nearby ranching operations,” USDA lawyers wrote in the court documents.

The Forest Service estimates that the problem dates back to the 1970s, when a rancher went bankrupt and could not manage the herd.

U.S. Representative Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., has called for consultations with farms about the lethal removal for inclusion in the Home Office funding bill.

According to the settlement, no further air operations are planned under the 2020 proposal.

This could direct more federal attention and money to field trips, Patterson said.

The rugged backwaters make it difficult to hunt feral cows that were born in the wild and were never domesticated.

“Nobody wants them there, and there is no immediate solution,” Patterson said. “But shooting cattle and leaving them to rot is not the answer.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: