Authorities have approved a plan for gunners, carried by helicopters, to kill dozens of wild cattle that are damaging habitats and threatening hikers in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, the U.S. Forest Service said this week.
The four-day cull, due to begin Thursday, will target about 150 stray or unmarked cows that environmentalists say are destroying the ecosystems of endangered species among Gila’s towering mountains and steep gorges.
The hunt could yet be legally challenged by ranchers, who have said aerial shooting of cattle is a cruel and inefficient way of controlling the population.
Forest ranger Camille Howes said the cull, the second in as many years, is the most humane way to protect wildlife habitats and the public.
“Ferocious cattle in the Gila Wilderness are aggressive toward wilderness visitors, graze year-round and trample stream banks and springs,” Howes said in a statement.
Aerial shooting of wild boar is common in the western United States, as is killing of predators such as coyotes, but shooting of wild livestock has met with resistance.
Ranchers say helicopters get livestock walking and force gunners to pepper cows with multiple rounds, some of which take hours or days to die. They also fear ranch cattle straying from broken fences and scarce water will be shot, hurting an industry hit by climate change and rising costs.
“They’re not looking for solutions that are long-term and not considered cruelty-free,” said Loren Patterson, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association (NMCGA), which advocates collections rather than wasting a valuable food resource.
NMCGA sued the Forest Service over its latest cull and Patterson threatened further legal action to stop it.
Last year’s challenge ended in an out-of-court settlement, which Patterson said prompted both sides to explore alternatives to air culling.
The Forest Service’s decision was a victory for environmentalists who want all cows removed from Gila and other public spaces.
“The top priority is to ensure the cows are not destroying habitat for threatened endangered species,” said Cyndi Tuell, director of the Western Watersheds Project in New Mexico and Arizona.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published by a syndicated feed.)
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