US Forest Service officials plan to shoot wild cattle in New Mexico from helicopters starting next week to address threats to the environment and visitors.

The operation is scheduled to begin on February 23 and last through next weekend, with the targeted area, essentially the Gila Wilderness Ranger District in the Gila National Forest, to be closed from February 20 to 26, they said. Forest Service officials Thursday.

Approximately 150 head of wild cattle roam the lush federal lands of western New Mexico, home to mountain peaks and deep canyons. The corpses will be allowed to decompose, officials said.

Forest Service personnel will be tasked with ensuring that downed cattle do not litter waterways or block trails, according to a statement from the Gila National Forest.

Forest officials have said that predators on the ground (wolves) and in the sky (some birds) will clean up the remains, as they have done before. And they have dismissed arguments that such an easy feast will bring wolves closer to ranches and thus present another danger to humans, saying there is little evidence that this has happened in the past.

Some area ranchers have criticized the plan as inhumane and wasteful, while some environmentalists have backed the aerial slaughter as necessary to preserve the area’s environment.

Forest Service officials have long argued that the cattle, descended from ranch cattle abandoned by bankrupt ranchers in the area in the 1970s, trample on environmentally sensitive land, aid erosion, litter waterways with their waste and it could carry disease and the potential to attack the park. visitors

Efforts to round up cattle have been largely inefficient and unsuccessful, particularly given the area’s unsettling terrain and diverging elevation, they said.

«These unowned feral cattle must be removed because they are environmentally incompatible, destructive, pestilential, offensive (unpleasant), and detrimental (causing injury) to man and forest resources,» wrote Jerry Monzingo, a biologist with the Gila National Forest. , in a biological evaluation. posted last month.

«They could also be carriers of diseases that could be transferred to their licensed cattle that occupy adjacent grazing allotments,» he added.

Ranchers have expressed concern that shooting is inhumane and that some animals raised on marked ranches could mix with feral cattle as some grazing areas in the region have been abandoned and barriers have fallen.

«Our society should be better than this,» Tom Paterson of the New Mexico Livestock Producers Association told the NBC affiliate. Albuquerque KOB. «We can be more creative and do it in a better way without wasting an economic resource.»

In the past, similar efforts to decrease wild animal populations by shooting have been met with lawsuits. It’s unclear if any have come forward in an attempt to stop next week’s plans.

In August 2021, the Forest Service said it had plans to remove livestock by lethal means and said it would notify all interested parties.

The Center for Biological Diversity has blamed cattle grazing in the New Mexico wilderness for destroying native wildlife habitat and creating islands of plant fuel that contribute to the intensity of wildfires.

You are supporting the plans to kill.

«We can expect immediate results: clean water, a healthy river and restored wildlife habitat,» Center for Biological Diversity co-founder Todd Schulke said, according to KOB.

Todd Miyazawa contributed.