NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The Gila National Forest is asking for public comment on the stray cattle problem, and whether they should use lethal options. Earlier this year, 65 cattle were shot and killed during a controversial US Forest Service operation. 

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association says killing them is not the answer. “It’s an unethical way; they’re startling them, they’re chasing them down with a helicopter. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” says Loren Patterson, President of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.

The Gila National Forest is considering shooting down stray cattle for a second time. In February, the Wildlife Services Division of the US Department of Agriculture conducted a two-day aerial operation, killing 65 cattle. 

A spokesperson says it was done to protect the habitats of threatened and endangered species. They described the operation as efficient and said capturing the cattle wouldn’t be useful because the animals are “feral” and too skinny to be used for meat. 

“These cattle have never been vaccinated, we don’t know what kind of diseases they might be carrying. The USDA, animal inspection service where they do approve for food grade meat, they will not inspect an animal that’s already been killed,” says Maribeth Pecotte, spokesperson for the Gila National Forest.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association believes those concerns are overblown. “There’s thousands and thousands of unvaccinated animals that make it to our food chain. As a matter of fact, we pay a premium in the grocery store for all-natural meat,” says Patterson. 

Patterson says, instead of killing the cattle, the forest service should repair fences to keep them out of sensitive areas. 

The Gila National Forest estimates there are up to 150 wild cows roaming the forest. They will be accepting public comments on their web site through January 9. Comments can also be emailed to: