Cowpocalypse: Complaint Says Forest Service Left Gunned-Down Cattle To Suffer, Rot

A New Mexico ranching association has sued the U.S. Forest Service to stop aerial gunning of stray cattle in the Gila Wilderness. The ranchers claim that in some instances of hunting nuisance cattle that way, they dont die quickly, but instead suffer horribly.

Mark Heinz

February 22, 20233 min read

Cattle gunned down 2 2 22 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The last time the U.S. Forest Service ordered that stray cattle loose on public land in New Mexico be shot from helicopters, a ranching advocacy group claims that many of the animals suffered lingering deaths and their carcasses were left rotting in a river. 

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association has filed a federal court complaint and an application for a temporary restraining order against the Forest Service, according to a statement released by the association. The complaint comes just before another such aerial Gila Wilderness cowpocalypse is planned for Thursday.

A Cowboy State Daily request for further comment from the association was not immediately answered Wednesday. 

The Forest Service earlier this month had 65 of the cattle – which the agency considers to be feral – gunned down from helicopters. The shooting was done by agents of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (AHPIS). The Forest Service and APHIS both fall under the Jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Horrific Scenes Of Suffering

Stray, or feral, cattle in the Gila Wilderness are nothing new. The Forest Service has for decades dealt with the animals by sometimes rounding them up, and other times simply killing them and leaving their carcasses to rot. 

The latter was the case this month. And the Forest Service recently announced plans to send in more helicopter gun crews this week.

The agency also claims that when it shoots cattle, the goal is to kill the animals quickly and avoid letting carcasses rot near hiking trials or water sources. 

But that’s not what happened during the last round of shooting, the cattle growers’ association claims in its statement. 

“The USFS and APHIS ultimately shot 65 head of cattle during that operation, many of which were not killed instantly but wandered off, bled out and then died,” according to the cattle growers. “Photographs showed carcasses in or on the banks of the Gila River. Calves were orphaned, starved and left for predators.” 

Oldest Wilderness

The Gila Wilderness is on the Gila National Forest. Requests for more information about the cattle shootings from the forest headquarters were not answered.

The Gila was established in 1924 and is the nation’s oldest designated wilderness area. In wilderness areas, only activities such as hiking and tent camping are allowed. Motorized uses – such as riding ATVs or cutting timber with chainsaws – are typically forbidden. 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter