By Pinckney Wood, Humane HEART (Health, Education, & Abuse Resolution Taskforce)
Scientific classification relates cattle to bison (buffalo) at least down to the taxonomic level of “subfamily” [Bovinae].
Before the disgraceful killing off of the vast herds in the 1800s, uncountably many bison roamed throughout the west and other regions of the United States, including what is now New Mexico.
The wild cattle in the Gila Wilderness are likely occupying an ecological niche that was once occupied by bison.
When certain people don’t like a certain animal in a certain place, those people are quick to jump to cliched “arguments”: they are non-native, they are feral, they carry disease, they are a threat to safety.
The word feral has been inappropriately applied to truly wild animals (such as the wild cattle in the Gila Wilderness, and wild horses in various places) to give the impression that the animals are not wild animals (and therefore not deserving of protection as such).
Now, about the term “non-native”: it may apply to recently introduced species that have yet to integrate ecologically. But, consider any volcanic island that rose out of the sea from the sea floor. All of the living things on that island were “non-native” when they arrived, but they became “naturalized” as they became fitted into the existing ecosystems of the island.
The wild cattle of the Gila Wilderness have roamed freely there for generations (perhaps many generations), they are a “naturalized” part of nature there. Killing them off will surely cause a disruption, to some degree, of the “balance of nature” in the area.
Consider this: Most, if not all, of the “reasons” for killing off the cattle in the Gila Wilderness also apply to the bison that roam the Geyser Basins of Yellowstone National Park, and other of our federal preserves. The bison are definitely a documented threat to visitor safety (but in the Gila Wilderness there are relatively few visitors). The bison are destructive to the ground in the basins, stream banks, protected plants, etc. The bison carry brucellosis in a region where domestic cattle graze. The bison could be regarded as a threat. But, who is fool enough to advocate for their re-elimination from the West. Being the symbol of the State of Wyoming, and part of the heritage of the West, people would strongly oppose any suggestion to kill off the pitifully small existing populations of bison.
Some people think they have the ability to be able to orchestrate nature. They Don’t. It seems every time they try, they foul things up.
Regarding the plan to shoot the cattle from helicopter: Simply put, it’s cruel. Kills will likely rarely be “clean.” Think about it. Animals will be left to die slow agonizing deaths. But, people in their folly often resort to cruelty and brutality.
Sometimes, individuals in charge of the land fancy themselves as scientists. They may have gotten impressions about “management” of living systems somewhere in their education. They are arrogant to the point of thinking they can manage nature. From quotes I read from a forest “biologist” and the forest superintendent, I think this may be the case in the Gila Wilderness.
Calls to a Gila Wilderness ranger district office to find out details were not returned. [Correction: I got a call-back this morning from a very nice/professional man at the Truth Or Consequences office of the Gila National Forest.] Some information can be gotten on the Internet. New York Times, NBC, etc. have reported the situation.