New Mexico shares with the Forest Service more than 150 wild cattle

New Mexico’s governor is fighting how federal land managers are eradicating wild cattle in the Gila Wilderness.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham released a statement Friday saying she was disappointed by what she described as the US Forest Service’s lack of meaningful, long-term engagement with stakeholders on a controversial issue.

The Forest Service is currently conducting an aerial shooting operation to kill as many as 150 “unauthorized” cattle in a wide area of ​​steep valleys and tree-covered mountain sides.

The operation has been the source of legal battles and protests in the agricultural community of southwestern New Mexico.

Federal officials and environmentalists argue that the animals trample river beds and destroy habitat for other species. The ranchers argued that the operation amounted to animal cruelty and that the cattle could be rounded up and taken instead of leaving their carcasses to rot in the wilderness.

A federal judge cleared the way for the operation on Wednesday when he turned down the ranchers’ request for a delay.

The governor said he shared his concerns with federal officials and asked them to do better.

“Whether debating prescribed burns or wildlife management, it is imperative that New Mexicans who live and work in and near the affected areas are allowed the time to be meaningfully involved in these decisions,” Lujan said. Grisham. “If that doesn’t happen, it will foster a persistent climate of mistrust and hinder progress toward our shared goals of a healthy environment and a thriving rural economy.”

“So far, they’ve failed the New Mexicans,” he said.

The Forest Service said Friday it shares the governor’s values ​​when it comes to conservation and public engagement and remains committed to transparency.

Agency spokesman Ivan Diego Knudsen said there have been several discussions with stakeholders over the past few years and the agency has tried to address concerns. He said those discussions with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the New Mexico Livestock Board and the ranching community will continue.

“Our hope is to work with cattle producers so that we can achieve more efficient operations than we have had in the past,” Knudsen said in a statement.

The agency said it supports “an integrated approach that may include gatherings and aerial removals to best achieve our shared vision” for the wilderness area.

The ranchers argued in court documents that the agency skipped the steps of rounding up the cattle and impounding them, opting instead to shoot them as a last resort. Their lawyer told the court that the operation has the potential to result in an estimated 65 tons (59 metric tons) of dead animals left in the wilderness for months until they rot or are eaten by scavengers.

The Gila National Forest issued its final decision to shoot the recalcitrant cattle last week amid pressure from environmental groups that raised concerns about uncontrolled grazing in sensitive areas.

Todd Schulke, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, said his group believes the Forest Service has done its best to address the damage done by feral cattle with the least impact possible.

The cattle in question are descendants of cattle that legally grazed the area in the 1970s before the business owner. Federal officials have made several attempts over the past two decades to capture the animals, including a similar shooting operation in 2022 that captured 65 cows in two days.

The Forest Service said it will release the results early next week once the operation is complete.

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