Helicopter spooks cattle through fence on Harding County, South Dakota ranch | TSLN.com

Helicopter spooks cattle through fence on Harding County, South Dakota ranch

A Harding County family has filed a formal complaint with the FAA after a helicopter flying low over their private land scared cattle through the fence.

In a letter to the Flight Standards District Office, Pine and Tami Gilbert, representing Gilbert Cattle Co., described a March 25 incident where a helicopter flew low over their private calving pasture, “bouncing in and out, up and down, around the rocks.”

The Gilberts thought it looked like the the chopper was hunting coyotes. But it wasn’t.

By flying so close to the ground and erratically dropping down near the cattle, the helicopter spooked the cattle, causing most of them to run to the pasture edge. Many piled through the fence.

Cows and calves were injured. When it was all said and done, 2 calves died, several cows were hurt and several pairs had to be put back in the barn to mother up again. Fence also had to be repaired.

The Gilberts immediately called their sheriff, who was able to ascertain that the helicopter was landing nearby in Bowman, North Dakota. He had a deputy hold the pilot at the airport so he could meet with him personally.

The pilot first denied flying in that area, but by looking at the flight plan, the sheriff was able to determine that, indeed, the copter had flown over Eagle’s Nest Butte. Three people on board included the pilot, an eagle biologist and a representative from Apex Clean Energy, said Tami. They were looking for eagles’ nests and claimed they did not see the cattle.

Cattle on two neighboring ranches were also spooked by the helicopter, said Tami.

The Gilberts are hoping this doesn’t happen again. “We want something protecting landowners, protecting our private property rights, prohibiting this from happening to us again or to others,” said Tami.

Tami has met with the Bowman and Harding County commissioners in order to see what kind of protections and privacy landowners can expect in regard to the airspace above their property.

“This is private, deeded ground, and we seem to have no say in any of this,” said the Gilberts in their letter. “We also find it frustrating that we are not even in the direct area of the wind farm, yet here we sit with the first collateral damages.”

Apex Clean Energy did not respond to a request for an interview.