USFS Photo

US Forest Service sued for gunning down cattle in New Mexico

USFS sued for shooting estray cattle in NM

65 head shot

By Anna Miller for Western Livestock Journal

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA), along with the New Mexico Federal Lands Council and two cattle companies, filed suit Feb. 9 in federal district court for New Mexico against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for shooting estray cattle in the Gila National Forest.

USFS planned to aerially shoot cattle Feb. 10-11, and after an emergency hearing, the court denied the groups’ application for a restraining order. An aerial gunner shot about 65 head over the two-day process, which cost $40,000. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said “no cattle were observed with ear tags or brands, despite intentional observation of each animal prior to engagement.”

Loren Patterson, NMCGA president, told WLJ the association is worried about the precedent the shootings will set.

“It would be one thing to go in there and shoot the last two, 10 head that you couldn’t get out. But it’s quite another thing when you don’t even have an accurate number of how many feral cattle or stray cattle are out there,” Patterson said. “And there’s absolutely no way to check for brands from a helicopter, especially in the winter with winter coats.”

Patterson noted the killed cattle were left where they were shot and not removed, which could attract predators. He added that he hoped no one’s personal property was affected, but “We’ll cross that bridge as we get there.”

Bronson Corn, NMCGA president-elect, said in a statement: “The repercussions of gunning down and leaving of cattle carcasses in the Gila will be felt by the agriculture community and many New Mexicans for some time.”

He added, “Those animals could have entered the food chain and been of benefit to many; instead, they are being consumed by predators that already have the natural inclination to depredate producer’s livestock. The overall situation and the waste of protein is saddening.”

NMCGA calculated the financial losses of the shootings based on mid-level and high-end grocery stores in Santa Fe, NM. If 200 cattle were shot, and 440 pounds of edible beef per animal were lost, 88,000 lbs. of beef went to waste, the cattle group said. Using the price of 1 lb. of ground beef chuck ($4.48) in a Santa Fe Walmart brings the total losses to about $394,240 worth of beef.

NMCGA calculated the financial losses of the shootings based on mid-level and high-end grocery stores in Santa Fe, NM. If 200 cattle were shot, and 440 pounds of edible beef per animal were lost, 88,000 lbs. of beef went to waste, the cattle group said. Using the price of 1 lb. of ground beef chuck ($4.48) in a Santa Fe Walmart brings the total losses to about $394,240 worth of beef.

Background

USFS said it located three separate herds of cattle totaling 150 head, and it planned to shoot all cows, calves and bulls. NMCGA reported producers in the area said USFS did not make a good faith effort to gather the estray cattle.

“Instead, the Service has opted to shoot the cattle in compliance with a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, who previously sued the USFS for allowing the cattle to harm the riparian areas in the Gila,” the association said.

“The USFS is establishing dangerous precedent to appease the Center for Biological Diversity,” Patterson said in a released statement. “Shooting cattle is not a long-term range management solution, and the USFS should know that.”

Patterson said the issue has stemmed from years of USFS management and vacated grazing allotments, and until vacant allotments are released to cattle producers, estray cattle will continue to be a problem.

“This situation took years to create, and a final solution may take years to ethically achieve,” Patterson said.

This is the second time shooting estray cattle in the forest has been up for debate. The first time was in March 2021, but the plan was met with resistance by industry groups, environmental groups and the New Mexico Livestock Board, and it was halted.

The lawsuit plaintiffs assert the USFS acted in violation of the law in its recent shootings.

“Forest Service regulations specifically govern the removal of unbranded livestock from a grazing allotment or area closed to livestock grazing,” the current lawsuit read. “There is no federal statute or regulations allowing the federal government to shoot livestock from a helicopter.”

Rather, the suit said, cattle that are grazing unlawfully on Forest Service ground must be seized and impounded.

Continue reading here


Subscribe to RANGE magazine

Call 1-800-RANGE-4-U

2 thoughts on “US Forest Service sued for gunning down cattle in New Mexico

  1. So goes the yellow brick road towards more federal roadless
    Wilderness.
    When the means is no good, that ruins the ends too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.