Gunmen will hop in a helicopter and take down feral cows in the New Mexico wilderness next week in a scene straight out of an action movie.
The hunt is meant to protect areas of the vast Gila Wilderness and was approved by US Forest Service managers Thursday.
The Gila National Forest OKed the plan as environmental conservation groups complained that about 150 cattle were damaging streams and rivers in the designated wilderness area with their hooves and mouths.
Officials said the operation was necessary — albeit a difficult call to make.
“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,” Forest Supervisor Camille Howes said in a statement.
However, ranchers have slammed the upcoming hunt — claiming its state-sponsored animal cruelty. They said the plan violates federal regulations.
To kick off the kill operation, officials will close a section of the Gila Wilderness to the public beginning Monday. Then on Thursday, authorities will begin hunting the cows.
A helicopter with shooters onboard will spend four days searching for and gunning down feral cattle in a 160-square-mile stretch of wilderness.
The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association said the plan goes against the US Forest Service’s own regulations that state shooting is a last resort and call for roundups first.
“Easy is not an exception to their own rules. Frustration is not an exception to the rules,” said Tom Paterson, chair of the association’s wildlife committee. “Our society should be better than this. We can be more creative and do it a better way where you’re not wasting an economic resource.”
But environmentalists applauded the Forest Service’s decision to go ahead with the helicopter hunt.
“We can expect immediate results — clean water, a healthy river and restored wildlife habitat,” said Todd Schulke, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Over the years, environmental groups have filed dozens of lawsuits that argued that cattle ruin the land and water by trampling stream banks around the West.
The Center for Biological Diversity said the water quality issues in New Mexico will gradually worsen more and more if the cows aren’t taken care of.
The group estimates that 50 to 150 cows graze in the Gila Wilderness, which is also home to endangered Mexican gray wolves, elk and deer among other wildlife.
Last year, a contractor hired by the US Forest Service killed 65 cows in an aerial hunt like the one scheduled to begin next week.
With Post wires
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