SILVER CITY, N.M. (KRQE) – Cattle have been grazing in the Gila wilderness for more than 30 years. The U.S. Forest Service says it’s negatively impacting endangered species and water quality in the area. They’re looking at a plan to kill them. A number of groups are opposing the move.

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Caren Cowan works with the New Mexico Federal Lands Council. She says, “Feral cattle are not unusual on forest service allotments or BLM.” The U.S. Forest Service manages the Gila wilderness area in New Mexico. According to the U.S. Wildlife Services, there have been untended cattle in the area for at least three decades, negatively impacting the environment.

Loren Patterson is the President of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. He explains “Yesterday we were informed that the guys of the forest service and USDA wildlife services were going to maybe remove some of those animals by lethal means.”

The wildlife services are planning to remove a small number of large bulls from the high country next week. Leaders with the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association say they understand this problem needs to be resolved. But they don’t want to see cattle being shot down from helicopters. 

Another concern from the Cattle Growers Association is that it is difficult to identify branded cattle from stray cattle. “Obviously from a helicopter several hundred feet away, they probably won’t be able to look for animal identification or ownership identification,” says Patterson. But according to Wildlife Services, these cattle are not easily retrievable and no brands have been found. They say it is unlikely that they are associated with anyone. 

Wildlife Services say next week’s worth of work in removing feral cattle is part of a long-term project. It will take several years to remove this population due to logistics, funding, and the landscape of the area. In a recent trip, 19 were rescued and 8 others killed.