Billings, Mont. – On Tuesday, February 21, 2023, the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, Humane Farming Association, Spur Lake Cattle Company and others filed a complaint and application for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction against the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to stop the aerial slaughter of what the USFS calls “unauthorized cattle” in the Gila National Forest.
But on Wednesday, February 22, US District Judge James Browning denied the Temporary Restraining Order to stop the aerial hunt by helicopter of estray cattle, citing that “the court does not see a legal prohibition on the operation. It would be contrary to public interest to stop the operation from proceeding.”
R-CALF USA Region V Director (Texas) and Property Rights Committee Chair Shad Sullivan issued the following statement in response to the impending aerial slaughter of cattle in the Gila National Forest.
“The cattle in question are descendants of herds that legally grazed on rancher-owned allotments decades ago. An estimated 150 to 200 head currently roam the Gila Wilderness that may possess DNA and genetic markers. In some cases, estrays may have intermingled with adjacent allotment owners branded and tagged cattle, proving they are domestic livestock. NMCGA and the group believe there is a great likelihood of this in the aftermath of the Black Fire last year, which destroyed over 30 miles of fencing near the aerial gunning operation area. But Browning and USFS officials don’t agree.
“The plaintiffs in the case contend that not only is the gunning down of the animals inhumane and cruel, but an environmental issue as well. The results of the aerial hunt in 2022, were in some cases considered grotesque, as some cattle were shot but were not killed. Calves were left motherless, and mature cattle received injuries that prolonged suffering, leading to an inevitable death and leaving carcasses strewn about the land and in waterways. It is estimated that the current 2023 aerial hunt will leave 65 tons of beef to decompose.
“The issue at hand, however, may not be the inhumane aerial slaughter of the cattle. Instead, the issue may be the unchecked power by unelected bureaucrats within governmental agencies setting a precedent for how federal officials handle authority. The ranchers in this case are challenging the authority of USFS actions contending that the USFS isn’t abiding by its own regulations. In fact, Daniel McGuire, the plaintiff’s attorney, said to Judge Browning, ‘There’s a severe danger here, not just in this particular case and the horrific results that it will actually bear if this is allowed to go forward. But it also has long-term ramifications for the power of federal agencies to disregard their regulations that they, themselves passed.’
“The estray cattle issue in the Gila Wilderness has been decades in the making. Over the years, by over-regulation or otherwise, allotment owners have left or have been removed from the area, leaving the land vacant and without proper management. This resulted in remnants of cattle herds being left behind. With no plans by USFS to reactivate vacant allotments and lengthy and unsuccessful contract applications for a more humane cattle removal plan, the decades-long problem has come to a head. NMCGA President Loren Patterson recognizes the removal of the livestock but opposes the lethal methods and is concerned that the abuse of authority by federal agencies will set a precedent across the nation and especially the West. R-CALF USA agrees with Patterson.
“Unfortunately, the slaughter is moving forward. With pressure from environmental groups and because of the rugged and vast terrain, the Forest Service feels this is the most humane way to deal with the immediate removal of the cattle. R-CALF USA and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association disagrees. We call on the Forest Service to step back and consider other options, such as seeking applications for private individuals to gather the cattle over time or, at least, putting the meat from the estray cattle to good use such as for feeding people in need.”