Federal Contractor Admits Shooting Horses from Helicopters

August 4, 2010, Larkspur, CA – In an article published today by reporter Steven Long of  Horseback Magazine (“Plenty of Water”), federal contractor Sue Cattoor of Cattoor Livestock Roundups, acknowledged that her husband, federal contractor Dave Cattoor, shoots and kills wild horses with a high-powered rifle from his helicopter.  According to Sue Cattoor,

The horse found by [Katie] Fite [of Western Watersheds Project in the Nevada desert] was not driven over the cliff to its death by Dave Cattoor, it was shot by him from the helicopter with a high powered rifle.

It happens on occasion because when we are out gathering horses, if we see something that has a pre-existing injury or if something is extremely old and needs to be put down, they will euthanize it in the field,” Cattoor said.

The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) has contracted with the Cattoors to haze, trap and transport (what the BLM and the Cattoors like to call “gathers”) wild horses and burros for years.  Cattoor Livestock is one of a handful of helicopter contractors that the BLM considers experienced enough in this specialized field to perform these contracts for the Wild Horse and Burro Program.  Whether those contracts allow the Cattoors to “euthanize” horses with high-powered rifles from helicopters is one question.  Another question is how it can be justified in any case.

BLM spokespeople, including Director Bob Abbey, have expressed concern, especially recently, that information about the WH & B program include “both sides of the issue” and offer “the BLM side” of stories being published on the wild horse and burro issue in the United States so that “members of “the public” can “make their own decisions,” as one BLM spokesperson put it (I assume the BLM means the public will get to decide who it wants to believe and not what it wants the BLM to do, because the public is clearly not involved in decisions about the fate of the animals themselves).

It will be interesting to see the spin that is put on this account of helicopter execution of wild horses by the Cattoors.  Maybe something along the lines of “it’s more efficient and easier on the horse than transporting it to a veterinarian for euthanasia.”  Or “euthanasia by gunshot is an accepted veterinary practice that is endorsed by several veterinary trade associations.”  Or, “it was an act of mercy to spare the animal any additional suffering.”  Or, “it was caused indirectly by wild horse and burro activists who file lawsuits and insist on being allowed to view gathers, and therefore we will no longer allow such viewing.”  Or “it is an unusual act that is reserved for only the most extreme circumstances and should not be used to judge the entire program.”  Or, “opinions expressed by federal contractors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the hiring agency.”  Or, most likely, “the BLM does not comment on issues involved in pending litigation.”

It is not clear if the contract between the Cattoors and the BLM allows the Cattoors to do their own shooting from the helicopters or if aerial gunning of wild horses by federal contractors is a legal exception to the general prohibition.  At least one source, University of California at Davis researcher Dale A. Wade, who wrote a study many years ago (1976) on the subject of aerial gunning of wildlife, suggests that pilots who “do their own gunning” were not following safe procedures, at least by 1976 standards:

There are some pilots in private aerial operations who do their own gunning.  However, this is not considered a safe procedure in professional control programs.  USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] regulations require both a competent pilot and gunner who have received adequate training and experience in low-level aerial operations.  This is also true of other professional programs.

The larger question for me is why we as a community allow this.  Sarah Palin got in hot water during her Presidential campaign for her support of aerial wolf gunning, a practice that many Americans did not know existed until Palin talked about it.

Reporter Samantha Henig of Slate Magazine wrote about the practice of aerial shooting of wildlife on September 2, 2008 in an article entitled “Aerial Wolf Gunning 101,” excerpted here:

Aerial shooting yields better results than traditional hunting, since it allows the hunter to cover a lot of ground quickly and track target animals from a clear vantage point. Historically, hunters also used planes to drive animals—polar bears in Alaska and elk in Montana, among others—toward gunmen waiting on the ground. But many hunters found the practice unsportsmanlike, since it violates the “fair chase” ethic, and animal rights activists call it inhumane, since airborne gunmen rarely get a clean (i.e., relatively painless) kill. In response to concerns like these, Congress passed the Federal Airborne Hunting Act of 1972, which made it illegal for hunters to shoot animals from a plane or helicopter.

The federal legislation(PDF) does have a loophole for predator control, permitting state employees or licensed individuals to shoot from an aircraft for the sake of protecting “land, water, wildlife, livestock, domesticated animals, human life, or crops.” (This doesn’t just apply to wolves; coyotes and foxes are sometimes gunned down from aircraft, especially in Western states.)

Animal hunts that are assisted by helicopter and aircraft pilots, sometimes including gunmen who shoot from the air, apparently started in the Western U.S. (according to Wade) as predator control by “stockmen,” and expanded after World War II when combat-trained pilots who already had the skills went looking for civilian work.

Aerial hazing, harrassment and hunts of animals are regularly used in the United States by state and federal wildlife agencies to control what many “wildlife specialists” and “conservationists” call “problem animals,” “invasive species,” “vertebrate pests,” “non-natives,” “ferals” and “exotics” who they blame for “biological pollution” and damage to “native” or “indigenous” flora and fauna or to domestic livestock.  The U.S.F.W.S, U.S.G.S, National Park Service, state wildlife departments, state agriculture departments, and other government agencies commonly contract with pilots and gunmen to conduct these kinds of operations.

Some wild horse advocates say that you cannot compare horses to “invasive deer” or other species that are hunted or killed for food or predator control, and that this “difference” is a reason not to treat horses as wildlife (establish seasons and allow hunters to shoot them) or food animals (slaughter them).  I think there is a better reason to forgo the use of helicopters, aircraft or mechanized vehicles, including drones, to haze, harrass or shoot any animal, including human animals that we call “enemies,” “unfriendlies,” “terrorists” “sympathizers” and even “collateral damage.” (See Jane Mayer’s October 26, 2009, article for The New Yorker entitled “The Predator War.”)  The reason is that this practice is immoral, unethical and inhumane.   It is cruel, callous and inexact.  It is brutish, thuggish and barbaric.  We have evolved.  We can do better.

One of director Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous, and chilling scenes (besides the shower scene in Psycho) is of the small plane pursuing Cary Grant through a corn field in the film North by Northwest. Director James Cameron used mechanized units to strike terror into the hearts of the “Resistance” in his Terminator series of films.  To be on foot and to be chased by a mechanized vehicle, even one operated by a human being, is universally terrifying.  Film directors know it and we know it.

I think a lot of people forget that Velma Bronn Johnston’s first campaign was to ban air and land vehicles from hunting and capturing horses and burros who roamed the West.  I do not believe she knew or cared about the genetic makeup of the animals, whether they were “jug-headed” or “crooked-legged,” old or young, “feral” or wild, on federal, private or state land, domestic, branded, unbranded, gelded, sterile or “studs.”  Johnston believed it was wrong and inhumane to use mechanized vehicles to hunt and capture horses and burros.  Her efforts led to passage of Public Law 86-234 on Sept. 8, 1959 (often, and pejoratively, called the “Wild Horse Annie Act”).  It later became apparent that a ban on motorized vehicles was not enough to protect the horses and burros and eventually the Wild, Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 ((P.L. 92-195) was unanimously passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Milhous Nixon.

Tragically, the dastardly enemies of the wild ones eventually succeeded in having the 1971 Act later amended by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978. FLPMA (Public Law 94-579) to allow for the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to once again use or contract for the use of helicopters and motorized vehicles for the purpose of “managing wild horses and burros on public lands.”

Velma Johnston was right to be concerned about the use of motorized vehicles to hunt, haze, harrass and capture horses and burros.  It should not have happened to horses and burros in the 1950’s in the U.S. West.  It should not have happened to horses in Nevada in the year 2010.  It should not have happened to brumbies in New Zealand in 2008 who were “culled by helicopter” when they came to a water hole to drink.

It should not be happening to wolves in Alaska, buffalo in Yellowstone, deer in Marin County, California or coyotes, foxes, badgers and bobcats in many states and nations.  It should not be contemplated for brumbies in Queensland, Australia.  And it should not be justified to allow “targeted killing” of humans in the middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan on the basis that we regard those particular humans as “enemies.”  How much longer will we continue to allow these kind of things in the name of “management,” “control” or “security?”

We must not allow this to go on any longer.

2 Responses to “Federal Contractor Admits Shooting Horses from Helicopters”
  1. morganlvr says:

    Excellent post that should be read by everyone.

  2. Henri says:

    This reminds me of the Elephants in Africa (South Africa I believe) that were suddenly starting to kill rhinoceros. That was something that didn’t happen before and scientists then found out that this happened because of the helicopter-hunting of elephants. The elephants had developed posttraumatic stress syndrom that made them aggressive. Also, most elephants in captivity have developed it too.

    You have perhaps heard of this already but otherwise there’s info on http://www.elephants.com/ptsd.php

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