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New Mexico feral cows to be culled by helicopter shooters




© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Cattle are seen near San Ignacio de Velasco, Bolivia, September 25, 2019. REUTERS/David Mercado


By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Authorities have approved a plan for shooters carried by helicopter to kill dozens of feral cattle damaging habitats and menacing hikers in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, the U.S. Forest Service said this week.

The four-day cull, due to begin on Thursday, will target about 150 stray or unbranded cows that environmentalists say destroy the ecosystems of endangered species among the Gila’s soaring mountains and precipitous canyons.

The hunt may yet face a legal challenge from ranchers who have said that shooting cattle from the air is a cruel and inefficient way to manage the population.

Forest Supervisor Camille Howes said the cull, the second in as many years, is the most humane way to protect wildlife habitats and the public.

“The feral cattle in the Gila Wilderness have been aggressive towards wilderness visitors, graze year-round, and trample stream banks and springs,” Howes said in a statement.

Shooting feral hogs from the air is common in the U.S. West, as is killing predators such as coyotes, but gunning down feral cattle has met resistance.

Ranchers say helicopters cause cattle to run, forcing shooters to pepper cows with multiple rounds, some taking hours or days to die. They also fear ranch cattle that have strayed due to broken fences and scarce water will be shot, harming an industry hit by climate change and rising costs.

“They are not looking for solutions that are long term, and not deemed cruelty,” said Loren Patterson, president of The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association (NMCGA), which advocates roundups rather than wasting a valuable food resource.

NMCGA sued the Forest Service over its last cull and Patterson threatened further legal action to stop this one.

Last year’s legal challenge ended in an out of court settlement, which Patterson said called for both sides to seek alternatives to airborne culls.

The Forest Service decision marked a victory for environmentalists who want all cows removed from the Gila and other public lands.

“The priority is to make sure that the cows are not destroying habitat for threatened endangered species,” said Cyndi Tuell, New Mexico and Arizona director for the Western Watersheds Project.

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