Gila National Forest moves forward with lethal removal of feral cattle from Gila Wilderness

Release Date: Feb 16, 2023

Area Closure begins Feb. 20, 2023

The Gila National Forest has issued a decision to remove feral cattle within the boundaries of the Gila Wilderness using lethal methods. These feral cattle are not domesticated animals and pose a significant threat to public safety and natural resources. A closure order covering the area of operations will go into effect on Monday, Feb. 20, and aerial shooting will commence from Thursday, Feb. 23 through Sunday, Feb. 26. For public safety, Gila National Forest officials are asking people to avoid the closure area while the order is in effect.

“This has been a difficult decision, but the lethal removal of feral cattle from the Gila Wilderness is necessary to protect public safety, threatened and endangered species habitats, water quality, and the natural character of the Gila Wilderness,” said Camille Howes, Gila National Forest Supervisor. “The feral cattle in the Gila Wilderness have been aggressive towards wilderness visitors, graze year-round, and trample stream banks and springs, causing erosion and sedimentation. This action will help restore the wilderness character of the Gila Wilderness enjoyed by visitors from across the country.”

The Gila National Forest is working with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services to remove feral cattle from within the boundaries of the Gila Wilderness. Due to the terrain, their numbers are challenging to determine but the best estimate is that there are approximately 150 head of cattle. The most efficient and humane way to deal with this issue is with the responsible lethal removal of the feral cattle. 

Some cattle growers have expressed concern that branded cattle could have strayed into the Gila Wilderness over the past year, due to fences and water gaps that were damaged during an unusually strong monsoon season. The Forest Service is committed to continued efforts toward collaborative solutions and will continue to coordinate with permittees in their efforts to locate, gather, and remove their branded cattle from areas where they are not authorized. 

All dispatched cattle will be left onsite to naturally decompose. Forest Service staff will ensure no carcasses are adjacent to or in any waterbody or spring, designated hiking trail, or known culturally sensitive area. A wilderness minimum requirements decision guide has been completed and approved before using any methods otherwise prohibited under the Wilderness Act.

For additional information, visit the Gila National Forest website or contact Maribeth Pecotte at (575) 388-8211.