Politics and threats keep cows on public land


Facing political pressure and rumblings of violence, the Forest Service retreated in late April from a plan to cut cows from 650 down to 100 on the 227-square-mile Diamond Bar grazing allotment in New Mexico's Gila and Aldo Leopold wildernesses. Instead, it reduced Kit and Sherry Laney's herd to 450 through Feb. 28, 1996.

Forage on the allotment has been scarce, and Forest Service officials and Laney say nearly 45 cows have died since Jan 1, 1994.

The decision to cut fewer cows followed intense pressure from the Texas bank holding the Diamond Bar's mortgage as well as from New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (HCN, 5/1/95).

On a mid-April horseback tour with officials, ranchers, academics and environmentalists, Laney also warned that if the Forest Service tried to remove his cows, Catron County supporters would greet them with guns.

Two days earlier, Laney had told the Albuquerque Tribune: "What's it going to take - me sitting on my front porch shooting the next son of a bitch that tells me when I can and can't move my cows?" Laney explained later that he merely intended to show his frustrations, not threaten violence.

Forest Ranger Sue Kozacek said her decision stemmed strictly from resource issues, and that she didn't consider Laney a violent person. "You just get a feel for the ones you should be concerned about in terms of threats."

Despite the reduced cut, Laney said he will appeal, while Susan Schock, director of Silver City's environmental group, Gila Watch, said she will sue. She accused the Forest Service of abdicating its land management authority to gun-toting Catron County "yokels."

Tony Davis reports from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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