ANIMAL WATCH-Los Angeles Animal Services and other local animal-control agencies and rescue groups cite Pit Bulls and feral cats as California's biggest humane challenges today. Cows are pretty low on their list of trending animal-related public safety/health issues. Thus, in 2018, it is hard to envision that, less than a two-hour drive from opulent Beverly Hills and celebrity-studded Hollywood, reality is transformed into danger and destruction by wild Pit Bulls and feral long-horn cattle.
In February 2016, President Obama created the 154,000-acre Sand to Snow National Monument in Southern California, located in San Bernardino County, just five miles west of Palm Springs. This designated area includes the San Gorgonio Wilderness, which contains large un-fragmented habitat areas with no roads, serving as an important habitat linkage area between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges.
Also, within it lies the Whitewater Preserve, which provides a year-round water supply. Visitors are invited to "hike from palm trees to pine trees...as you discover the beauty of the Whitewater River, aptly named during the spring runoff, but relatively mild most of the year."
The Whitewater Preserve is breathtaking and exciting visually and topographically, and its proximity and easy accessibility to dwellers of nearby metropolitan concrete jungles makes it even more appealing and vital. Public access is enabled and managed by the Wildlife Conservancy.
Since the federal designation, the annual count of visitors and families has risen from 90,000 in 2016 to almost 150,000 who enjoy camping, hiking, backpacking, bird watching, and many other extraordinary opportunities for physical adventure and solitude with nature.
At least until recently…
An estimated 150 unbranded feral long-horn bulls and cows are now roaming the new Sand to Snow National Monument. At least a third are bulls, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds each.
"They are trampling the trail and devouring native vegetation in one of California's newest national monuments," LA Times writer Louis Sahagan reported earlier this month.
Terry Anderson, a board member of the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep, told the Times, "They are... ripping up this monument and scaring the heck out of folks who cross paths with them. They also can transmit disease to native bighorn sheep." Anderson insists that these non-indigenous animals need to be removed. "I'm all for lethal removal. They don't belong here," he said.
However, the cattle are not without threats to their survival. Signs posted on the trails warn of an additional danger, a pack of Pit Bulls has been killing and eating the wild cattle.
California Fish and Wildlife authorities said they were unable to lure the dogs into traps using food, so they apparently are not hungry.
"At this time, we are in the fact-finding stage, so we have little details on the history of these animals and their exact whereabouts," said Sarah K. Webster, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management.
Conservationists claim the cattle are adversely affecting the California desert tortoise, arroyo toads, as well as bighorn sheep; reshaping the land contours and contaminating the watershed with their droppings.
Officials believe the cattle are descendants of herds originally from ranches located in this area a century ago. Smaller numbers of the cattle roamed the rugged terrain at higher altitudes, but the prolonged drought forced them to lower elevations, where they have been sighted for the past four years, and the damage to the environment has imperiled native wildlife.
Officials say cattle grazing remains common across California's public lands, but owned animals are branded and tagged so they can be identified.
The large number of animals in the feral herd and their tenacious proximity to one of the most popular wilderness trails adds to this very perplexing and dangerous problem for officials.
Due to the lack of cellphone service in portions of the canyons, it could be virtually impossible to summon help in the event of a stampede, goring, or a Pit Bull attack.
Conservation groups, including the Pacific Crest Trail Association, are calling on federal land managers to take action.
Who's in Charge?
According to the U.S. Forest Service, it co-manages the Monument (71,000 acres on the San Bernardino National Forest) with the Bureau of Land Management (83,000 acres of the California Desert District).
This month a team of federal land managers, biologists and representatives of the nearby Morongo Band of Mission Indians reservation plan to meet to come up with a strategy and funds to eliminate the unbranded cattle and unowned Pit Bulls.
Therein lies another problem. Both the dogs and cattle are crossing jurisdictional boundaries of agencies and governments, the Times points out, which results in "any removal having to comply with myriad state and federal wildlife regulations."
It could take months or years to develop a viable plan to address this problem. In the meantime, the animals will either increase or decrease, depending upon their rate of reproduction, sustainability and/or factors, such as, contagious diseases within either group, which could further accelerate the destruction of indigenous wildlife.
A Serious Look at Reality -- CA is not the New Wild West
We do not know whether the Pit Bulls were strays or intentionally released in the Whitewater Preserve. We also do not know at what rate they are reproducing and what the survival rate could be. (This breed can have litters of 10 to 13 pups.) This cannot go uncontrolled.
We also cannot ignore that Pit Bulls were originally bred for bull baiting and are genetically adept at killing other animals. Whether by training or natural instinct, this pack is, thus far, apparently proficient in surviving deadly battles with large animals with horns that span from 36 to 80 inches to the tips. However, there is no way to estimate the amount of damage, infection and suffering that occurs from inevitable wounds.
Allowing this to continue constitutes complicity in a contrived brutal conflict between two domestic species, not a natural prey/predator occurrence.
Publicizing this atavistic situation is necessary and important but can also cause others who want to dump Pit Bulls (or other dogs) to abandon them in or near this area. For officials to allow this danger to continue--and perhaps expand--is barbaric and inhumane.
This is not the time for prolonged bureaucratic debate or political grandstanding. Humane action needs to be taken quickly. Endless discussion will only make the damage and pain worse. The cost of procrastination will be the prolonged suffering of these animals and, also, the increasingly probable loss of innocent human lives. California is better than this in 2018, isn't it?
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.