A feral bull is seen along the Gila River in the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico, on July 25, 2020. U.S. forest managers in New Mexico are moving ahead with plans to kill feral cattle that they say have become a threat to public safety and natural resources in the nation's first designated wilderness, setting the stage for more legal challenges over how to handle wayward livestock. (©Robin Silver/Center for Biological Diversity via AP)
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By Susan Montoya Bryan, AP

A helicopter with a shooter will fly over a portion of the vast Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico next week, searching for feral cows to kill.

U.S. Forest Service managers approved the plan Thursday to protect sensitive spots in the nation’s first designated wilderness area. The move sets the stage for legal challenges over how to handle unbranded livestock and other stray cows as drought deepens in the West.

The Gila National Forest issued the decision amid pressure from environmental groups who raised concerns about nearly 150 cattle whose hooves and mouths are damaging streams and rivers. Ranchers, meanwhile, have criticized the plan to shoot cows from a helicopter as animal cruelty. They said the action violates federal regulations and will be problematic when carcasses are left to rot.

A section of the Gila Wilderness will be closed to the public starting Monday. A helicopter will launch Thursday, with shooters spending four days looking for feral cattle in rugged areas that include the Gila River.

Forest Supervisor Camille Howes said the decision was difficult but necessary.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Ranching industry groups and other rural advocates are concerned that the action taken in New Mexico could set a precedent as more grazing parcels become vacant across the West.

Ranchers say fewer people are maintaining fences and gone are the rural neighbors who used to help corral wayward cows. Some have left the business because of worsening drought, making water scarce for cattle, and skyrocketing costs for feed and other supplies.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association estimates roughly 90 grazing parcels are vacant in New Mexico and Arizona. Increased use of public lands — including hunting and hiking — also has resulted in knocked-down fences, the association said. Elk, too, are to blame for damaging fences meant to keep cows in check.

Tom Paterson, chair of the association’s wildlife committee, said the group has tried to find a solution that wouldn’t involve shooting feral cattle. He pointed to a recent directive issued by the New Mexico Livestock Board that allows neighboring permittees to gather and herd the cattle out.

With snow on the ground, access is limited. Paterson said federal official are not giving enough time to see if the directive will work. His organization also has accused the U.S. Forest Service of skirting its own regulations that call for a roundup first, and shooting as the last resort.

“Easy is not an exception to their own rules. Frustration is not an exception to the rules,” he said. “Our society should be better than this. We can be more creative and do it a better way where you’re not wasting an economic resource.”

Environmentalists in dozens of lawsuits filed in courts around the West over the years have argued that cattle ruin the land and water by trampling stream banks. They applauded the Forest Service’s decision.

A feral bull is seen along the Gila River in the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico. (©Robin Silver/Center for Biological Diversity via AP)

“We can expect immediate results — clean water, a healthy river and restored wildlife habitat,” said Todd Schulke, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The position marks a shift from the environmental community’s stance on shooting other wildlife — from a fight over protecting bison at the Grand Canyon to annual complaints about the actions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, an agency often vilified for killing birds, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions and other animals.

Just last month, environmentalists sued in Montana over a program aimed at managing grizzly bears. In 2021, conservation groups settled another lawsuit over Wildlife Services’ practices in Idaho. Environmental groups there and elsewhere have long claimed that the agency’s predator-control activities violate environmental laws.

But in New Mexico, the Center for Biological Diversity contends that water quality issues will only worsen if feral cattle aren’t removed. The group estimates that 50 to 150 cows graze, unauthorized, in the Gila Wilderness, a remote stretch that spans more than 870 square miles (2,253 square kilometers) and is home to endangered Mexican gray wolves, elk, deer and other wildlife.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association had asked the Forest Service to hold off on lethal action for a year after the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association had reached an agreement with federal officials following last year’s operation. The New Mexico group is expected to challenge the latest decision.

According to the Forest Service, the feral cattle problem dates back a half-century, when a cattle operation went out of business and subsequent grazing permits were suspended. Hundreds of unauthorized cattle have been removed over the years.

In 2022, a Forest Service contractor killed 65 cows in an aerial gunning operation similar to the one planned for next week.

Photos shared by ranchers of the 2022 operation showed dead cattle upside down in the Gila River. Federal officials said those carcasses were pulled out of the water. A survey done 90 days later found that no carcasses remained. Scavenging birds and other animals consumed them, officials said.

The upcoming operation will cover about 160 square miles (414 square kilometers).

No carcasses are to be left in or adjacent to waterways or springs — or near designated hiking trails or known, culturally sensitive areas.

The work, namely noise from the helicopter, also can’t interrupt the breeding season for the Mexican spotted owl, the southwestern willow flycatcher and other endangered species. The aerial gunning operation is expected to be complete before April, when the season begins for Mexican gray wolves to have pups.

Environmentalists used to point to the removal of livestock carcasses as a preventative measure to limit conflict between wolves and ranchers. However, federal officials stated in documents that were released this week that there’s no scientific research or observational data to suggest that once wolves scavenge on a livestock carcass, they become habituated to cattle.

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  1. This just in: Forest service employees seen delivering bodies of feral cows to local slaughterhouse for “discrete and sanitary” disposal.

    No idea what a feral bull tastes like, but medium rare is medium rare.

    • Probably: hunters are not effective enough to accomplish management goals. Plus politics.

      That said, I would strongly favor private hunters, as opposed to government hunters. Aint no such thing as perfection.

    • Thats the shit they sell at Aldi as “Bison meat” that has a year long expiration date.
      It’s vacuum packed, sealed and chock full of chemicals.

      • Still better than the Laboratory Generated Pseudo Meat. Better known as Soylent Green. That the FDA recently approved for human consumption.

        • I don’t eat that shit, it’s impossible.
          Like the Impossible Whopper, The Whopper sucks so how about we make it actually worse? No fake meat for me.
          It’s made of Kale and Crack so you don’t care that your eating it.

    • Shades of the Channel Islands off the coast of kallyfornicadia. Feral sheep were the villain on the Channel Islands. Suggestions of having private hunters harvest the sheep met with resistance from both the Forest Service and the bambiists. So goober mint hunters came in and killed most of the sheep What the FS overlooked was the wild pig population that had been held in check by the sheep eating the forage. Once most of the sheep were gone it was party on for the feral hogs. There were all those dread sheep to pig out on —pardon the pun. The wild pig population exploded. Apparently the pigs didn’t mind dining on slightly or even grossly aged sheep. The greatly expanded pig population was far worse than the large sheep population. The second time around the islands were opened up to limited hunting. Well, limited hunting doesn’t cut it when trying to cut down on wild pigs. It has to be all out warfare. So goober mint hunters were brought in. All told, it was reported to have cost over $1 million dollars of taxpayer money to get the islands back to their “original fauna.” Inasmuch as they had found pigmy mastodon skeletons on the islands I always wondered where they scared them up in order to return the islands to their “original fauna condition.”

      I predict that these little venture will result in a much larger work population and a wild pig population. As far as removing the carcasses, are they going to chopper them out? I can’t see the “federal hunters” bushwhacking into a wilderness area on foot to butcher and haul out on backpacks the cut up carcasses. Get real. Ain’t going happen in this century. If they haul any carcasses out which I highly doubt, it will be by helicopter, Several decades ago the FS moved some deer from a park in NorCal where the deer were eating all the vegetation in the park. They used helicopters to haul them out and the 30 minute helicopter ride cost a reported $30,000 per deer. That was close to several urban airports where the helos could get refuted and where the distances involved were close by. If the help ride was 30 minutes long, I am sure the total time for each deer was more. The help can’t just drop a live deer from the help and expect it to live which was the ultimate goal, that all the deer would live. Unfortunately, that goal was not met as within 6 months it was reported that all the deer had expired.

      They cold have had archery hunters pay to take the deer out but that was cruel. It was far more humane to let the deer starve to death with the meat wasted — at least that was what the bambiists thought.

      Didn’t somebody smarter than I say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

    • If you go shoo! shoo! to a feral bull only thing I’m thinking is dear Lord let me run faster than TheUnspoken! 😁

  2. Several years ago while watching the Sportsman’s Channel I learned about feral cattle. And how they are considered dangerous game in North America. American Hunters were traveling to Mexico in order to legally hunt them. Controlled hunting is necessary to maintain the Environmental balance. Private hunting is extremely necessary. For all animal species.

    Birds like crows are a threat to cattle. Because they will fly down and Peck their eyeballs out as they sleep on the ground. Wild turkeys are encroaching into neighborhoods and attack people. People who are starting to raise chickens are learning about the problems of having too many coyotes around.

  3. Of course it never occured to the idiots to let hunters have permits with a fee of course that would have put money in the States Wildlife funds and the meat would be eaten either by the hunters or could be donated to food banks. But hey that would take some brain power to understand and put into effect and its much easier just to spend taxpayers money like its water.

    • dacian, you must be looking in a mirror and seeing an “idiot”. Hunters are required to have a permit/license to hunt and a fishing license to fish with the monies raised going into wildlife funds. You mentioned “brain power” which is foreign to you and in fact your lack of knowledge relative hunting in America is a strong indication that you are foreign to the U S A. Are you and Albert Hall good, and I do mean good, buddies or perhaps one and the same?

      • To Hush Puppy brain

        quote———–Hunters are required to have a permit/license to hunt and a fishing license to fish with the monies raised going into wildlife funds.—————quote

        Reading comprehension you moron. That was my point you idiot that in this case Hunters are NOT PERMITTED to thin out the wild cattle herd. Now which part of this do you not understand genius boy.

        • darcydodo…I’m surprised you are displaying a smidgen of common sense and not saying: “No one hunts with an assault rifle, no one needs 10 bullets to kill a MOOOOO-cow.”

        • I think you should have use a sledge hammer or chainsaw.
          Not being anti 2A but lets give them a fighting chance.
          The REAL thrill of the chase.

    • Wait a rabid ANTI-GUN NUT is supporting using a gun!!!!

      Wait until your MASTERS have learned you went off ” The plantation and SCRIPT”!!!!

    • But you don’t understand that it is a lot more exciting to have helicopters flying around with folks who are on the goober mint payroll shooting from the helicopters than it is to do the paperwork to issue hunting licenses. And the people in the FS don’t see the money. It goes into the general fund to be doled out depending upon who on the Forest Service congressional committee has enough clout with the other members of congress to get the funds back to the FS where it belongs. You must live in a dark cave to think that goober mint operates in an efficient manner. I just saw a quote attributed to a well-known economist “Put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert and within five years there will be a shortage of sand.

    • I agree 100 percent sell some tags.Do not waste the meat.If they were wild horses they would catch them

    • Not too dissimilar to how Cape Buffalo are hunted in Australia’s Northern Territory.

      Even feral pigs have been culled from helicopters in NSW.

    • The Feds are hiring rock painters from Michigan St. to shoo the varmints so that no evil guns will be used.

      • I suggest a 12 gauge slug for the feral bull in the picture above. The new Beretta A300 would be just the ticket, no worries!
        It would be counter-intuitive to allow private hunters with GUNS™ do the killing and meat salvage.
        So, where’s the beef?

  4. The elk hunting in the Gila is world-class. Try and get a tag; it’s worth it. I’ve seen herds of 400 elk up there. Harvested a cow a couple of years ago, but haven’t drawn since.

  5. It never ceases to amaze me how governments fail to take advantage of hunters who would willingly and happily go remove the animals themselves, at ZERO expense to governments.

    Worst case, let hunters go kill the feral cattle and use the money that government would have spent (on helicopters for hunting) for using helicopters to transport harvested animals to the nearest accessible two-track or road where the hunters could then haul their animals away.

    It could be like elk hunting: after killing the animal, the hunter field dresses and quarters the animal for significantly less weight to pack/transport out of the wilderness area.

    • Yeah, I don’t get this at all. I would happily buy a tag for a grass fed cow. I don’t have a feel for how much less a feral cow would weigh than an equivalent breed in a feed lot but, given that 1200 lbs of feed lot beef on the hoof dresses down to something like 700-750lbs, I gotta think that there is at least 300 lbs of good meat on a full grown feral cow.

  6. More importantly, how do we get rid of Feral Politicians?
    For the record, I don’t advocate shooting them.

  7. Why not allow hunting of feral livestock? if the animals are as much of a problem as stated in the article, along with the cost of meat on the market, I’m sure if license fees/permits were not overpriced, they could allow a couple dozen permits with the requirement of the carcass being utilized instead of wasted. Most states require harvested game to be utilized and not left to rot.
    We allow hunting in most forest service managed lands. We encourage hunting of invasive, feral hogs in many parts of the country. Hunting is an important part of game management for most game species. While I won’t be traveling to NM to hunt, I’m sure many folks in the region would be happy to hunt and harvest some grass fed beef.

    • And taxidermists would have a larger variety of animals to stuff and mount. Can’t you just see in 100 years little Billy finding the head of a bovine cow in the attic and ask grandpa to tell him the story about why he shot Bessie.

  8. I guess that since the cattle do not have a visible brand they are called feral. Not everyone brands cattle. Looks like an excuse to eliminate beef. The cattle are a threat to the environment but the wolves aren’t ? What about the threat of the derailment that is ruining air and water quality and the EPA says it’s not a problem.

      • Then the cow catchers are not doing their job – the cow pounds must all be full. Hell, I will adopt a few 2 year old steers. I will take good care of them and give them the “rare” treatment they deserve.

    • If Vegan Meat was so popular why does my local supermarket always have it on clearance sale?

      If you knew how vegan meat was prepared you would reconsider it’s consumption. It makes a Maccers (local slang for McDonald’s) burger look positively healthy.

    • Elmer, Our illustrious benevolent and most wise President said those cattle would need F16’S and Nukes to take on the federal giverment, puny AR15’s that split humans in half and vaporize bodies are of little use against a giverment helicopter.

    • Puny AR15’s that vaporize bodies are no good against a government helicopter. The cattle would need f16’s and n ukes.

  9. Do your bullets contain lead?
    – -Yes ,we’re the giverment, we can use lead bullets because our lead bullets are environmentaly safer then a citezen/hunters lead bullets.

  10. Posted twice got moderated once. I used to have the trigger words pretty much figured out but not anymore. You might get moderated for the word Yes or No , who’s to know

  11. I find the double standard of environmentalists to be amusing. “Don’t eat beef, it’s cruel to the animals/Lets shoot these cows and let em rot they’re grazing.”

  12. There was the same “problem” on a different Forrest where I live. I tried to have a “cow” hunt to fix the problem. The range manager at the Forest thought it was an excellent idea. The cattle owners in the area also agreed that it would take care of the cattle that were too wild to round up. After I had every one’s blessing to harvest the cattle, I checked with the Sate Livestock Inspector and was told that if I did that, I would be charged with cattle rustling. I always butchered my cull cows and mostly made them into hamburger and jerky. They were excellently eating. I think that the prior comment about hunting them and using the helicopters to transport them to a road is an excellent idea.

      • I don’t know how it is in other states, but in California since statehood in 1850, all wild animals are the property of the State, and you need a permit to harvest them. One cannot own wild animals until they are legally taken.

        • Apparently, in CA, we have feral goats that are open to hunt year round with just a hunting license. I’ve never seen one. They must be wiley critters.

      • Wow, I’m in. Two days worth of posts sent to the black hole, so I tried a different ISP. Hmm…

        To the topic. It’s primarily a native vs. non-native animal thing. The term “feral” in this context refers to an animal that is derived from domesticated stock, that now lives largely in a wild, undomesticated state. Feral cattle are not native to North America, so traditional state game laws generally don’t apply, or are usually limited if they do. Same thing for feral hogs (peccaries are the only members of the pig family that are native to the Americas), European starlings, English sparrows, red stag, and a host of other introduced species. In Ohio, for example, it’s pretty much open season on feral swine, and the few regulations are incidental to other hunting seasons. You must have a hunting license (except while on your own property), and if you happen to be hunting them during a deer season, you must have a valid deer tag and be using weapons that are legal during that specific season.

        For the feral cattle in this case, primarily, they are not “the king’s game” or as we Yanks would put it, they don’t belong to the public, held in trust by the states, as is the case for whitetail deer, elk, grouse, black bear, mallards, and other “traditional” or “native” game species. Secondarily, there may be valid claims on them from local ranchers, and/or general state/federal firearm, hunting, and trespass regulations that may be applicable to the area. It’s a complicated issue because of the secondary considerations.

  13. to allow outside citizens to hunt them would deprive the government from wasting taxpayers money and admit civilian gun ownership.

    • Unfortunately, your comment is too true. It’s better for goober mint stooges to be flying around in helicopters, shooting wild cows than it is to have private citizens shooting them and utilizing the beef.

  14. we will fight for bovine freedom and hold are large heads high.

    we will run free with the buffalo or die, ie, ie…

    cows with guns

  15. If Patterson doesn’t want to see the cattle killed, then he and his friends should get out there, and round the cattle up. He can have himself an old fashioned cattle drive – – – to the slaughterhouses in Kansas City maybe?

  16. Why not let hunters harvest the feral cattle? They hunt wild game on Federal lands, so why not feral cows? Of course, that would save taxpayers some money and take the government out of the equation — can’t do that!

  17. I’m not sure if it was a deliberate clickbait headline or just clumsy editing and a lack of competent proofreaders, but the headline for this story as given in the TTAG email today was:

    Forest Service Authorizes Shooing Feral Cows in the Gila Wilderness to Protect the Environment

    Quite different from what this article actually says!

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