The U.S. Forest Service recently announced plans to decrease the population of feral cattle on national forest land near the New Mexico-Arizona border. However ranchers in the proposed area are standing up against the effort saying gunning down the animals from helicopters is a violation of federal law and it will not help to solve the problem.
The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association has expressed concern over the wildlife agents ability to determine branded cattle from unbranded cattle which could result in mistakenly killing cows with brands and that ultimately would result in the taking of private property.
Environmentalists have also joined in on the battle by expressing concerns of leaving the dead cow carcasses on the land will draw Mexican gray wolves to prey on the livestock. Ranchers are concerned worry the pending aerial gunning operation on the Gila National Forest could exacerbate issues with the endangered species.
Forest officials are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to remove all unbranded and unauthorized cattle from the Gila Wilderness. Officials say the animals are a threat to sensitive habitat along streams. A previous effort to catch and remove wild cattle from the area only netted 20 animals.
Forest officials say they aren’t certain just how many feral cattle are in the wilderness area, they have an estimate it could be as many as 250.
Regional forest service officials said in a released statement that the most efficient way to deal with this issue is “with the responsible removal of the cattle” and the agency’s primary mission is to protect the sustainable use of the forest.
The Cattle Growers’ Association have argued without the exact number, it won’t be possible to hold federal officials accountable or determine if the effort has made an impact in reducing the population.
Loren Patterson, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers, believes the situation is the result of many years of mismanagement by the Forest Service. “New Mexico Cattle Growers’ members understand that estray cattle are not good for the multi-use doctrine embraced by our federally administered lands,” Patterson said in a statement. “This situation took years to create, and a final solution may take years to achieve.”
The New Mexico Cattle Growers association believes there is not a federal statute or regulation that allows the Forest Service to gun down livestock. Adding that rounding up and impounding livestock is allowed only after a list of conditions have been met. The group is standing firm in their beliefs that the government should provide adequate notice and allow public comment before imposing their will to proceed as they deem equitable.
Federal wildlife officials are in the middle of conducting their annual survey of Mexican gray wolves along the New Mexico-Arizona border. The results of their findings are expected in a few weeks.
Last year’s survey revealed at least 186 Mexican gray wolves were found in the two states. That finding showed for the fifth straight year the endangered species increased in numbers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a recent statement that it does not think that the proposed cow operation will have an impact on wolves “due to the short-term nature of the carcasses and the limited utilization of the area by Mexican wolves.”