New Mexico ranchers urge court to stop aerial shoot of feral cattle

They say the method is inhumane
calendar icon 23 February 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

Cattle ranchers on Wednesday asked a federal judge for an order blocking the US Forest Service from shooting dozens of feral cattle from a helicopter in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, arguing the planned cull is inhumane and could hurt their businesses, Reuters reported.

The ranchers and local business owners told US District Judge James Browning during a hearing in Albuquerque that the four-day hunt of about 150 stray or unbranded cows, due to start on Thursday, would violate federal laws and Forest Service regulations and likely accidentally kill cows they own.

"The Forest Service has a specific regulation that describes how they're supposed to remove these unauthorized cattle, they simply don't want to follow it," said Steven Scholl, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, told Browning.

The Forest Service announced the hunt last week, the second in as many years, saying that feral cows were damaging habitats and menacing hikers who visit the vast Southwestern national monument, known for its mountain ranges and plunging, rock-walled canyons.

US Department of Justice attorney Andrew Smith, representing the Forest Service, argued on Wednesday that blocking the cull would allow feral cow populations to "rebound, and last year's efforts would be wasted."

Aerial hunting of feral hogs and predators like coyotes is a common practice in the American West, but efforts to gun down cattle from above have been met with protest.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association (NMCGA), which filed a lawsuit on Tuesday alongside other ranching, farming and business interests, said aerial shooting puts at risk privately owned cattle that may have strayed through broken fences or due to scarce water resources. That loss harms an industry already hard-hit by climate change and rising costs, they said.

The ranchers also said helicopter hunting is inefficient and inhumane, causing cattle to run and forcing shooters to pepper cows with multiple rounds before they are left to die, sometimes days later.

NMCGA had sued the Forest Service over its last cull, resulting in an out-of-court settlement. The ranchers said that agreement requires the government to give the public 75 days’ notice before it shoots feral cows from helicopters. The government provided just seven days’ notice this year, they said.

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