The U.S. Forest Service approved a plan for a helicopter with a shooter to fly over the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico to search for and kill feral cows. The decision has sparked controversy between environmental groups and ranchers, reports The Associated Press.
"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," said Forest Supervisor Camille Howes. Added the Gila National Forest: "The most efficient and humane way to deal with this issue is with the responsible lethal removal of the feral cattle."
Ranchers like the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association have opposed the decision. "We came to the table with real solutions, long-term solutions," said association President Loren Patterson, who said the group suggested the cattle be rounded up and sold for food or added to ranchers' herds. "To have them ignored for temporary population control is very frustrating."
On the other hand, environmentalists are in favor of the decision. "These cattle have been in the area for decades and they've done an extreme amount of damage over a long period of time," said Todd Schulke, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We can expect immediate results," he added.
The Center for Biological Diversity posits that water quality in the area will continue to deteriorate if the cows aren't dealt with. The Forest Service carried out a similar operation in 2022 that killed 65 cows; there are an estimated 150 remaining. The wilderness region will be closed starting on Monday and the helicopter will launch on Thursday. The operation is expected to last four days.