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National Park Service seeks wranglers to round up wayward cattle in Valles Caldera

In World
April 05, 2024

Apr. 4—How do you quell years of wrangling over wayward cattle in the Valles Caldera National Preserve?

Wrangling, of course.

The National Park Service is seeking wranglers on horseback to round up hundreds of cattle that routinely mosey into the 88,900-acre preserve from adjacent grazing allotments. It’s part of an effort to protect the park and avert a lawsuit by environmentalists.

“This is an important service to protect park resources from any damage from trespass cattle,” Valles Caldera Superintendent Jorge Silva-Bañuelos said in a statement.

“Along with continuing to work with the USDA Forest Service on adjacent grazing allotment fence repairs and establishing a virtual fence system, having consistent trespass cattle roundups to minimize resource impacts will allow us to meet our obligation of preserving and protecting this special public space for everyone to enjoy,” he added.

In October 2022, three environmental groups threatened to sue the agency under the Endangered Species Act for letting cows wander into the caldera and encroach on at least three protected species and their habitats.

Andrew Rothman, Wild Places Program director for WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups that filed a notice of intent to sue, said “any action the park service or Forest Service, for that matter, takes to prevent the trespass cattle is a positive one.”

Rothman called the wrangling services a “really important step” to help keep cattle out of the preserve.

“Cattle are creating impacts to important resources, including waterways and wildlife habitat,” he said. “There were many instances of trespass cattle in 2023, and we expect that there’s going to be more in 2024, and this wrangling will be helpful to try to curb the impact.”

Dave Krueger, a park service spokesman, said the first and only time the agency contracted with wranglers at the caldera was in 2018.

“It’s something that we’ve been wanting to do for a while, and it’s just taken a while to go through the contracting process to get to the point where we are today,” he said.

Wranglers will be required to saddle up a minimum of one day a week or two days every other week from May 20 through Nov. 8 and round up between 90% and 95% of cattle roaming freely on the preserve into designated corrals.

The park service estimates about 30 cows would be wrangled, herded and corralled on any given day the wranglers are out.

“The number will vary from day-to-day and week-to-week due to the unpredictable nature of the animals,” according to a performance work statement. “In 2023, a survey of trespass cattle indicated a total of approximately 500 cows trespassed onto park property between May and November.”

Krueger said the park service has the authority to levy fines against ranchers whose cattle have been identified or caught trespassing within the park for damages and recovery of expenses.

“That is most likely going to be a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We’re trying to be good neighbors, understanding neighbors, work with the ranchers to secure their cattle and get them back to them in their legal grazing allotments.”

The cattle wrangling services seek to protect habitat for threatened and endangered species, including the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and the Mexican spotted owl, as well as riparian areas, which are being denuded by invading cattle, according to the work statement.

“Sensitive vegetation is also being trampled,” the document states. “Further, safety is paramount at the park, and by rounding up, herding and securing trespass cattle in corrals, it will reduce the number of times park visitors and park staff have encounters with trespass cattle on roadways and trails.”

The wayward cattle, which are abandoning their permitted grazing areas for the bountiful preserve, are generally accustomed to being rounded up by wranglers on horseback, according to the work statement.

“A typical wrangling service shall focus on the northern portion of the park, specifically Valle Toledo and Valle San Antonio,” the document states. “Additionally, a typical wrangling service may cover approximately five miles or less from herd location to a corral, and [20] miles in a day if herds are found in multiple locations.”

Although barbed-wire fence separates the preserve from grazing allotments on the Santa Fe National Forest, damage from wildfires, fallen trees and vandalism have created openings, allowing cattle to routinely wander into the park.

The job, which requires a minimum of two wranglers on horseback to work together, involves more than just herding cows.

Within 24 hours of a day of work, the contractor must provide a written report that includes GPS coordinates pinpointing where the cattle were found and the route used to herd the cattle to a designated corral, as well as a wide-angle photograph of the cattle prior to herding.

Wranglers are prohibited from using drones, helicopters, sedation, lethal techniques, passive traps or all-terrain vehicles. They can, however, use a herding dog or dogs “to accomplish the task sufficiently and effectively,” according to the work statement.

All quotes for wrangling services are due at noon April 30.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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