Feral cows in New Mexico will be shot from air, US Forest Service says

ByZoe Sottile, CNN
Sunday, February 19, 2023
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NEW MEXICO -- The US Forest Service will move forward with killing feral cattle in New Mexico's Gila National Forest, officials say.

The agency issued its decision in a news release on Thursday, stating the feral cattle "pose a significant threat to public safety and natural resources," CNN reported.

Aerial shooting of the cattle will take place from February 23 to February 26, according to the news release. The service told CNN via email that they would "lethally dispatch as many feral cattle as we are able to during this operation" and that "it is likely that additional operations, using lethal and non-lethal methods, will be necessary to eliminate the feral cattle population."

There are an estimated 150 feral cows living in the Gila Wilderness, a protected wilderness area in southwest New Mexico and part of the Gila National Forest.

The feral cattle have created problems in the Gila National Forest since the 1970s, when a rancher abandoned cattle on the Redstone Allotment within the Gila Wilderness, according to a memo from the Forest Service. The memo defined feral cattle as cattle that don't have brands, ear tags, or other signs of ownership.

"These cattle have not been husbanded, cared for by private owners, or kept or raised on a ranch for several generations, and are thus not domesticated," the service said in the memo.

The difficult terrain of the forest as well as the "wild, uncooperative nature of the animals" makes capturing the cattle alive challenging and dangerous for both the animals and humans involved, according to the memo.

According to the service, the problem posed by the untamed cattle is twofold. First, the cattle are aggressive towards humans. In the memo, the service said hikers in the Gila Wilderness have been charged by feral bulls.

Second, the herbivores' intensive grazing habits have damaged the environment and harmed native species' natural habitats, according to the memo. The cattle's trampling and eroding stream banks have also damaged the water quality.

"This has been a difficult decision, but the lethal removal of feral cattle from the Gila Wilderness is necessary to protect public safety, threatened and endangered species habitats, water quality, and the natural character of the Gila Wilderness," Gila National Forest Supervisor Camille Howes said in the news release.

"The feral cattle in the Gila Wilderness have been aggressive towards wilderness visitors, graze year-round, and trample stream banks and springs, causing erosion and sedimentation," Howes continued. "This action will help restore the wilderness character of the Gila Wilderness enjoyed by visitors from across the country."

Some cattle ranchers are concerned some of their branded cattle could have strayed into the Gila Wilderness over the past few years, according to the news release. The service said it is "committed to continued efforts toward collaborative solutions" and that it would work with ranchers to locate and remove their branded cattle.

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