SILVER CITY, New Mexico, Nov. 22, 2022 – The Wilderness Ranger District of the Gila National Forest is seeking public comments on a proposal to remove unbranded and unauthorized cattle from the Gila Wilderness, using lethal and/or non-lethal methods. Comments will be accepted through January 9, 2023.

“Removal of unauthorized cattle is necessary to protect the habitat of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, including federally listed threatened and endangered species,” said Camille Howes, Gila National Forest Supervisor. “The unauthorized cattle in the Gila Wilderness trample stream banks and springs, causing erosion and sedimentation. This proposal will help restore the wilderness character of the Gila Wilderness by removing non-native species and alleviating the damage caused by over-grazing.”

The problem of unauthorized cattle began in the mid-1970s when a permittee declared bankruptcy and abandoned his cattle in the wilderness. Over the course of nine contracts for their eradication, a total of 756 cattle has been removed (alive or euthanized) from the Gila Wilderness.

Forest Service records indicate that of these, only one cow was branded (captured in 1998), the remaining 755 cattle did not have a brand, ear tag, or other ownership identification. On average, for every animal successfully led out of the Wilderness, one dies or is euthanized during capture and removal efforts due to the remote location, rugged topography, and stress to the wild, uncooperative animals. In February 2022, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services conducted a 2-day aerial operation during which 65 cattle were euthanized.

If a lethal removal method is selected, an area closure would be implemented prior to and during any aerial euthanasia missions. Aerial shooting would occur over two 7-day periods in winter when visitor activity within the Gila Wilderness is typically at its lowest. A follow-up effort may be needed at a later time.

All lethally removed or euthanized cattle would be left onsite to naturally decompose. Cattle would not be shot within or adjacent to any waterbody or spring, designated hiking trail, or known culturally sensitive area. If a carcass is within or adjacent to one of these areas, Forest staff would remove the carcass. A wilderness minimum requirements decision guide would be completed and approved before using any methods otherwise prohibited under the Wilderness Act.

The public is encouraged to submit issues or ideas that should be considered in developing a final proposal that meets the need described above. Comments should include: 1) name, address, phone number, and organization represented, if any; 2) title of the project “Gila Wilderness Livestock Removal” on which the comment is being submitted; and 3) specific facts and supporting information for the responsible official to consider. Commenter names, addresses, and email addresses will become part of the public record. Comments must be received or postmarked by January 9, 2023.

Written comments may be delivered in person or by mail to: Gila National Forest, Attn: Planning Program, 3005 E. Camino del Bosque, Silver City, NM 88061. Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday. Comments may also be submitted by email to: comments-southwestern-gila@usda.gov. For additional information, contact the Forest Service at (575) 388-8201.

 

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