Gila Cattle Shooting Delayed, N.M. Gov. joins opposition to USFS decision

GILA WILDERNESS, N.M., February 28, 2023 — The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) extended a temporary area closure in the Gila Wilderness to allow for the lethal removal of estray cattle until March 15, unless rescinded.

According to USFS officials, aerial shooting operations by the agency and contracted Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) personnel were delayed a day, starting Feb. 23, and then grounded by high winds on Sunday, February 26. Aerial operations took place February 24 and 25 and were set to resume Feb. 27.

Government attorney Andrew Smith spoke on behalf of the USFS and said reports detailing the total number of cattle killed during the operation will be read out at the completion of this year’s aerial operation, sometime in the middle of the week.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement Friday that she understands the challenge the U.S. Forest Service is rightly trying to solve, but is disappointed in their lack of meaningful, long-term engagement with New Mexico stakeholders on controversial matters like this one.

“Whether debating prescribed burns or wildlife management, it is imperative that New Mexicans who live and work in and near impacted areas are allowed the time to be meaningfully involved in these decisions. When that does not occur, it fosters a continued climate of distrust and hinders progress toward our shared goals of a healthy environment and a thriving rural economy.

She said she has expressed these concerns to U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture leadership and implores the federal government to do better.

“As it stands, they are failing New Mexicans,” she said.

R-CALF USA Region V Director (Texas) and Property Rights Committee Chair Shad Sullivan also spoke against the lethal removal.

“The issue at hand, however, may not be the inhumane aerial slaughter of the cattle,” Sullivan said in a statement. “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.”

Source: Rachel Gabel, The Fence Post Magazine and Western Ag Network