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Gila Ranchers Trespass Cattle on Wilderness, Harming Endangered Fish and Wildlife

June 3, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Public Lands  
#GreaterGila, #WildlandsForWildlife
Santa Fe, NM – The Southwest’s most notorious ranchers have illegally released nearly 200 cattle into the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness areas and Apache National Forest within the past few weeks and are currently defying Forest Service requests to remove the illegal cattle. According to Forest Service records, Kit, Sherry, and Alvin Laney, former grazing permittees on the Diamond Bar and Laney allotments, unlawfully placed approximately 150 cows on the Diamond Bar allotment and 39 cows on the Laney allotment in the last two to six weeks.

WildEarth Guardians is calling on the Forest Service to immediately impound the cattle and prevent further damage to streams and watersheds that have been healing from decades of past abusive cattle grazing by the Laneys. The Forest Service claims that it intends to file civil and criminal charges against the Laneys for trespass in the near future, but WildEarth Guardians is concerned that the agency may lack the political will to stop the blatantly illegal act. The Laneys have denied the Forest Service access across their private land in Black Canyon, making the round up attempt problematic at best.

“I am shocked and angered that the Laneys released cattle directly onto streams that provide some of the only habitat for endangered Gila trout, loach minnow, and spikedace, in blatant violation of the court order no less,” said Laurie Fulkerson, WildEarth Guardians’ Grazing Program Coordinator. “We want the Forest Service to promptly remove cattle from these critical areas before the harm is irreparable.”

The Laneys’ trespass tactics on the Diamond Bar allotment and denial of access to the Forest Service are nothing new. After the Laneys’ grazing permits were not reissued in 1996 because they did not pay grazing fees, the Laneys continued to graze without permits until 1999, when a court order by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined them from doing so. In 1998, the Laneys argued to the Tenth Circuit that they should be declared the legal owners of the 145,580-acre Diamond Bar allotment under Territorial law since their predecessors obtained the fee interest right to water and grazing in the 1880s. In 1999, the Tenth Circuit denied their argument and prohibited the Laneys from grazing the allotments because their grazing permits expired, reaffirming that federal lands livestock grazing is a privilege that may be revoked by the government, rather than a right. Despite the Court’s ruling, the Laneys rehashed the same argument in a letter to the Forest Service this past April, refusing to remove the cows and threatening agency personnel that attempt to do so.

The Diamond Bar allotment, one of the largest allotments in the Southwest region of the Forest Service, contains occupied critical habitat for federally threatened loach minnow and spikedace, as well as occupied habitat for federally endangered Gila trout and federally threatened Mexican spotted owl. Similarly, the Laney allotment contains critical habitat for the loach minnow, spikedace, Southwestern willow flycatcher, and Mexican spotted owl.

Both the Diamond Bar and Laney allotments were extremely overgrazed under past Laney management. For instance, a report by Holechek and Galt in 1996 documented 80-90% cattle use on grasses and 70-90% use on woody species on the East Fork Gila River in the Diamond Bar Allotment, double the 40% utilization standard. In addition, a Forest Service emergency inspection of the Laney allotment in 1996 documented 100% utilization of cottonwoods and willows along the first reach of the San Francisco River, which contains loach minnow and spikedace occupied critical habitat.