Forest Service to Shoot Feral Cattle That Attacked Hikers in Gila National Forest
Nearly 50 years after a rancher abandoned a herd of cattle in the Gila National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service will attempt to "lethally remove" the animals' descendants.
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The United States Forest Service will “lethally remove” a herd of feral cattle that had taken up residence in Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico, the agency announced.
Feral cows and bulls have been an issue in Gila National Forest since a rancher abandoned a herd of cattle in the 1970s. As a result of their abandonment, experts don’t consider these animals to be domesticated, which could put local foot traffic in danger.
According to the agency, some of the cattle in question had been exhibiting aggressive behavior, even charging hikers on occasion. The herd is also responsible for extensive environmental damage like creek bed erosion, water pollution, and overgrazing.
In a news release, Camille Howes, the Gila National Forest Service Supervisor stated:“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. This action will help restore the wilderness character of the Gila Wilderness enjoyed by visitors from across the country.”
Although an accurate estimate of the number of cattle in the region has been difficult to reach, officials suspect that there are about 150 feral cattle in the area. Gila National Forest has worked extensively with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services to move these feral herds out of the forest boundary.
Beginning yesterday, the Forest Service closed a section of the Gila National Forest to the public in preparation for an aerial shooting, which will take place from February 23 to 26. The resulting corpses will be left in the area to naturally decompose, although the Forest Service will attempt to clear cattle from water sources, trails, and sensitive areas.
Howes added: “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.”
While conservationists—including the Center for Biological Diversity, New Mexico Wildlife Federation and WildEarth Guardians—as well as the Chiricahua Apache Nation Council have largely cheered on the agency’s decision, some ranching and farming groups have criticized the planned killings.
On its Facebook page, the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association announced that it was suing for a restraining order to stop the Forest Service from putting its plans into effect, based on an agreement it had struck with the plaintiffs in February 2022 to provide 75 days notice before any future lethal removal. The organization sued for a similar restraining order last year; a federal district court denied their request.
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Officials say they are actively looking for collaborative solutions to manage feral cattle in the future. The Forest Service expects this week’s aerial shooting to substantially reduce the feral herd’s population. But the agency told CNN that additional operations would likely be required in the future as well.