Should more cows be removed from Gila Wilderness?

SILVER CITY, NM (KRQE) – The U.S. Forest Service is asking for your help in determining whether more unauthorized cows should be removed from the Gila Wilderness. It’s an issue that has sparked much debate, but the Forest Service says cattle are damaging the landscape.

“The removal of unauthorized livestock is necessary to protect the habitat of both aquatic and terrestrial creatures
Wildlife, including federally listed threatened and endangered species,” Camille Howes, a Gila
National Forest Supervisor said in a press release. “The unauthorized cattle in the Gila Wilderness trample stream banks and springs, causing erosion and sedimentation.”

Earlier this year, the Forest Service announced a plan to shoot some unauthorized cattle. This led to backlash from some groups, including the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, who feared the forest service might inadvertently kill cattle owned by some New Mexicans. But the Forest Service countered, saying the cattle they wanted to remove were likely strays and could not be retrieved.

Some cattle were killed. In a two-day program, 65 cattle were shot by officers. Now the forest service is seeking public comment on plans to kill more unauthorized cattle.

The general plan is to kill cattle by shooting them from a helicopter. The carcasses would be left to decompose in the Gila wilderness unless adjacent to sensitive areas such as hiking trails or bodies of water.

But the forest service is open to alternative ideas. You can accept public comments until January 9, 2023. They indicate that comments should be addressed to Gila National Forest, Attn: Planning Program, 3005 E. Camino del Bosque, Silver City, NM 88061, or online at: [email protected]

Comments must include: 1) name, address, telephone number, and organization represented, if any; 2) Title of the Gila Wilderness Livestock Removal project on which the comment is being submitted; and 3) specific facts and supporting information, according to the Forest Service.

So why are there so many cattle in the Gila wilderness? According to the forest service, the problem dates back almost 50 years.

At that time, a cattle owner filed for bankruptcy and abandoned his cattle in the wild, according to the Forest Service. Since then, over 750 cattle have been removed dead or alive.