The Gila National Forest is accepting public comment on its proposal to remove feral cattle that are degrading fish and wildlife habitat in the Gila Wilderness. Submit your comments by January 9th in support of the Gila National Forest’s plan to remove feral cattle from the Gila Wilderness. USFS Scoping Letter
The Gila National Forest estimates that there are between 50-150 feral cattle remaining in the Gila Wilderness – America’s first wilderness area. The cattle have caused damage to riparian areas by overgrazing and trampling streambanks causing erosion, dramatically degrading water quality and destroying fish and wildlife habitat, including habitat for threatened and endangered species.
There have been many attempts to round up this reproducing herd over the last 40 years and it will take a concerted effort to solve this problem once and for all. Lethal methods are necessary to successfully remove feral cattle from the remote and rugged wilderness in the most humane way for the cattle.
Submit your comments by January 9, 2023 via email: email@example.com
or via mail to:
Gila National Forest
Attn: Planning Program
3005 E. Camino del Bosque
Silver City, NM 88061
Need for action
The Gila National Forest (GNF) estimates that there are between 50-250 feral cattle remaining in the Gila Wilderness – America’s first wilderness area. There have been many attempts to round up this reproducing herd over the last 40 years and it will take a concerted effort to solve this problem once and for all. Lethal methods are necessary to successfully remove feral cattle from the remote and rugged wilderness (see GNF feral cow history).
The GNF has full authority to remove unauthorized livestock from federal lands. Litigants, including the NM Cattle Growers Association, were denied a temporary restraining order requested to stop the 2022 Wildlife Services operation, because: the statutes cited by the plaintiffs didn’t preclude the GNF from taking action; they couldn’t show how the action caused harm; they were unlikely to prevail on the merits of the case; and the delay would impede the GNF responsibility to preserve its lands.
Years of roundup experience and subsequent ecological monitoring have confirmed that the feral cows in the Gila Wilderness are unowned, unbranded, unauthorized animals that have been reproducing independently of any ranch. There are no ranches or active grazing allotments in close proximity.
Several years of ecological monitoring with photo documentation have shown significant and long-lasting damage caused by the feral cows in the Gila Wilderness, particularly where cattle have concentrated near water sources such as the Gila River and springs. Monitoring reports available on request (reports available from 2017, ’18, ’19, ’21, ’22).
Roundups result in a greater than 50% mortality rate and pose great risk to the feral cattle that are captured and to the cowboys and horses used during roundup operations.
Extensive surveys were done 90 days after the 2022 Wildlife Services operation. No carcasses were found. Carrion-eating birds and animals completely consumed the carcasses.
It is likely that a small number of resident predators ate portions of the short-lived carcasses left by Wildlife Services. However, the electronic wolf tracking program showed no influx of wolves into the area and post-operation ecological monitoring did not detect an unusual number of black bears or other carnivores in the area. Additionally, Wildlife Services has stated that there is no science available that supports the claim that the operations will attract and acclimatize predators.
Wildlife Services is committed to lethal removal of cattle away from waterways. In 2022, two bulls perished in the Gila River. The GNF promptly removed them from the water.
The portion of the Gila Wilderness where the feral cattle exist is a popular recreation area, supporting hunting, boating on the Gila River, and hikers on the Continental Divide Trail. There have been numerous reports of high-risk interactions between the public and the feral cows.