The U.S. Forest Service has resorted to gunning down cows from the air to clear them out of a New Mexico wilderness area, a drastic-seeming solution to the problem.

Most recently, 65 cattle were shot from the air in the Gila Wilderness area over the course of two days this month, according to the Forest Service. The shooters were agents with the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Some APHIS agents specialize in killing predators and nuisance animals.

The Forest Service also is under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some Of The Oldest Wilderness

The Forest Service has drawn wide criticism for sending aerial gun crews to kill stray cattle in the Gila Wilderness Area of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.

The Gila Wilderness was established in 1924, making it one of the oldest official wilderness areas in the United States. Wilderness areas are zones in national forests set aside for preservation.

Generally, riding ATVs, cutting timber with chainsaws and other such activities aren’t allowed in wilderness areas, which are designated for an authentic wildland experience.

Death From Above, Left To Rot

Forest Service claims that the cattle – which either strayed away from their herds or were left behind by ranchers – have essentially become an invasive feral species in the Gila Wilderness.

The cattle have been running wild and damaging habitat, particularly in delicate riparian areas, according to the agency.

Riparian zones are the greenery adjacent to small stream and creeks and are considered vital to wildlife and the overall health of ecosystems. The Forest Service claims the feral cattle have, among other things, been trampling riparian zones in the wilderness.

There have been “unauthorized cattle” running loose in the Gila Wilderness since the 1970s, according to the Forest Service. Since then, 755 cattle have been killed or removed from the area.

That makes the latest round of shootings are part of an ongoing effort to manage feral cattle, the agency claims.

Cattle killed from the air are left to rot, but agents try to shoot them away from any water sources, hiking trails or other sensitive areas, the Forest Service says.

‘Strays, Not Feral’

The cows in the Gila Wilderness are “stray” cattle, not feral, Bronson Corn, president-elect of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, recently told the Western Ag Network.

It’s unfair and wasteful for government agents to simply be gunning them down, he said.

Corn told the Ag Network that his group also has proposed sending wranglers in, but the Forest Service has so far declined to adequately fund such an effort.

Cowboy State Daily questions regarding the wrangling option sent to Forest Service officials weren’t answered by Friday afternoon.