19 Gila cattle shot by USFS, no other cattle present

The Gila National Forest has completed recent aerial operations to remove feral cattle within the boundaries of the Gila Wilderness using lethal methods. A total of 19 head were killed by a specialized USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services team over three days of operations.

According to a release from the U.S. Forest Service, the entire area was searched four times with the naked eye and through thermal imagery, and no additional cattle were located. The Forest Service said they will continue to monitor the area to help develop future management actions.

Camille Howes, Gila National Forest supervisor expressed the Forest Service’s commitment to working collaboratively with the ranching community, saying the Gila National Forest “will continue to coordinate with permittees in their efforts to locate, gather, and remove their branded cattle from areas where they are not authorized.”

“What a waste of taxpayers’ money,” said Loren Patterson, President New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. “Reporting 19 head killed over several days of flight just shows that the United States Forest Service has absolutely no idea about the actual herd numbers in the wilderness, and has no evidence to support its claims that a herd of 150 head was causing dire terror and environmental damage. The environmental organization the USFS apparently listens to has failed it.”

Patterson said traditional gathering methods carried out by skilled stockmen has reduced estray cattle in New Mexico. One of the solutions offered by NMCGA was a New Mexico Livestock Board directive that would authorize any valid allotment owner within the Gila National Forest and the Gila Wilderness to gather unbranded cattle, hold them for proper inspection and purchase them from the NMLB.

Another proposal was to ask the USFS to allocate funds to repair existing infrastructure in the wilderness to facilitate humane gathering of the cattle. Those facilities would aid in holding captured cattle as well as serve a useful purpose for the use of bait traps with salt blocks, water or feed. 

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement Friday that she understands the challenge facing the U.S. Forest Service, but is disappointed in their lack of meaningful, long-term engagement with New Mexico stakeholders on controversial matters like this one.

Gov. Grisham said whether debating prescribed burns or wildlife management, she said it is imperative that stakeholders are allowed the time to be meaningfully involved in these decisions. When that does not occur, it fosters a continued climate of distrust and hinders progress toward our shared goals of a healthy environment and a thriving rural economy.

She said she has expressed these concerns to U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture leadership and implores the federal government to do better.

“As it stands, she said, they are failing New Mexicans.

R-CALF USA Region V Director (Texas) and Property Rights Committee Chair Shad Sullivan also spoke against the lethal removal.


“The issue at hand may be the unchecked power by unelected bureaucrats within governmental agencies setting a precedent for how federal officials handle authority. Sullivan said Daniel McGuire, the attorney representing stakeholders, told Judge Browning last week ‘There’s a severe danger here, not just in this particular case and the horrific results that it will actually bear if this is allowed to go forward. But it also has long-term ramifications for the power of federal agencies to disregard their regulations that they, themselves passed.”

USFS said the issue of “feral” cattle, which is the USFS designation of the cattle to be removed, began when a grazing permittee abandoned cattle on the Redstone Allotment within the Wilderness. In the 1990s, USFS issued a new grazing permit for that allotment to another permittee to manage the cattle with the goal of addressing “the feral cattle situation.”

Due to non-compliance, the term grazing permit was suspended in 1996 and canceled in 1998. From 1996 to 1998, the permittee removed several hundred cattle, though “a population” remained. Since 1998, USFS has issued nine gather contracts that resulted in the removal of an additional 211 cattle. In February 2022, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services conducted an aerial operation where 65 feral cattle were lethally removed.

According to the decision, the work of removing them by capturing and herding them out of the wilderness is hazardous to the feral cattle, as well as to the contractor’s employees due to the wild, uncooperative nature of the animals and the remote and difficult terrain. Additionally stress or injury has resulted in about half of captured cattle dying or requiring euthanasia before they could be herded or led out of the wilderness.

In the memo, the cattle are referred to as “an invasive, exotic species” and said the feral cattle have negatively impacted fish and wildlife habitats including habitats for several federally threatened and endangered species.

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