Wild cattle problems could easily be solved with a sport hunting program
By JIM MATTHEWS
The piece read more like Zane Grey adventure fiction. In the wildly dramatized story about a band of feral cattle terrorizing hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail, you could envision the snorting bulls, hooves pounding, as they rushed innocent hikers on the trail, tossing them with their horns like inept matadors in a Spanish bull ring, blood and guts mixed with blowing bull snot.
I read it twice.
There were only two parts of the story that were salient and not sensationalized. First, there is indeed a growing herd of feral cattle – escapees left over from a century of public land grazing – still living in rugged country in the Whitewater and Morongo canyons region between Banning and Palm Springs. This herd, estimated to be 150 or so animals, apparently scares the living poop out of urban hikers who have never had close contact with wild animals that don’t scamper off at the first hint humans are around.
Second, the feral cattle can cause significant environmental damage when numbers are not controlled, unlike permitted cattle on grazing leases. Cattle numbers in legal leases are strictly controlled and restricted, theoretically, so they don’t damage the habitat. Wild cattle don’t round themselves up and stroll down to the slaughter house each year to keep their numbers in check.
Since the wild cattle herd spans a lot of ground, they are living across the jurisdictions of two federal agencies, an Indian reservation, a nature preserve, and private property. Last year’s wet winter and green-up at lower elevations, brought the cattle down out of higher country, and now they are scaring hikers and causing visible environmental damage as the herd grows. This has led to no end of hand-wringing, and there will be a multi-agency meeting this month to figure out a way to get rid of the cattle and write a plan on how to handle the situation.
Now I don’t claim to be a legal expert or to know all the laws relating to domestic-gone-wild cattle, but if my reading of the statutes is anywhere near correct, there are no laws protecting the unclaimed wild cattle, and the land owners/managers can remove them however they see fit.
Of course, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will want to spend a lot of taxpayer’s money to study the issue, develop a plan, and then pay either cowboys or “sharpshooters” to come in and try to end the problem. The nature preserve will close off access to the Pacific Crest Trail so they don’t get sued if someone is stupid enough to actually get gored by a wild bull on their property, and then they will participate in the federal hand-holding meetings and agree with whatever plan they come up with to deal with the problem.
I’m holding out hope the tribal members will see through all this, and a few of them will solve the problem (at least on their lands) with a few .30-06 slugs judiciously placed. I also suspect the lean meat would then end up on barbecues all over the reservation.
Here’s an alternative. If you do an Internet search on Australian wild cattle (or scrub bulls, as they like to call them) hunting, you will find a multitude of websites for Aussie guides and outfitters who are more than happy to charge U.S. hunters $2,000 to shoot a wild cow (and this is on top of all the other fees). Their wild cows are much like those cattle in the San Bernardino Mountains.
“Mature bulls are huge, dangerous, and tough to kill. They provide an exciting challenge to those hunters to like to pursue a dangerous adversary,” claims one website, trying to get you to buy into the adventure.
So, I’m holding out hope that when all the agencies meet, instead of throwing away a lot of money on this “problem,” they simply open the lands under their control to cattle hunting in specific areas. All hunters would pay an administrative fee to get maps of open areas and some simple rules. I sure some of the very competent guides in Southern California, would immediately start offering cattle hunts in this rugged and inaccessible country, charging $2,000 or more for the hunts in this terrain.
This simple hunting solution would do a couple of things almost immediately. First, it would teach the cattle to run like heck when they see or smell people, ending the problems hikers are facing. Second, it would disperse them so their damage to the environment wouldn’t be concentrated in small areas, and the hunting pressure would keep them moving. Third, it would dramatically reduce the cattle numbers fairly quickly. Fourth, since the wild cattle are unlikely to be eradicated under any scenario that doesn’t exceed the cost of sending a man to the moon, it sets up an ongoing program that will keep their numbers low, perhaps while even making a few dollars for the landowners. Fifth, instead of wasting government money and all that protein, it would become a way to have someone else pay to happily solve the problem.
There are actually a number of places across Southern California where wild cattle are increasingly causing problems. While the Department of Fish and Wildlife considers them feral, non-game animals, which are not protected, perhaps the state should set up the framework for hunting wild cattle and function as the clearing house for private land owners and state, and federal agencies, allowing the state’s hunters to solve the feral cattle problem on these lands.
Hunters have been pretty darned effective at keeping wild hog numbers on public lands in check, so there is no reason to believe they couldn’t do the same thing with feral cattle.
We are, however, talking about government agencies, and this IS California. Does anyone in the hunting community think this has one chance in a million of happening?