(CNN) — The US Forest Service will go ahead with the slaughter of wild cattle in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
The agency issued its decision in a news release Thursday, stating that feral cattle “pose a significant threat to public safety and natural resources.”
The aerial shots at cattle will take place from February 23 to 26, according to the press release. The service told CNN via email that they would “lethally dispatch as many feral cattle as possible during this operation” and that “additional operations, using lethal and non-lethal methods, are likely to be necessary to eliminate the feral cattle population.”
There are an estimated 150 feral cows living on the Gila Reservation, a protected wilderness in southwestern New Mexico and part of the Gila National Forest.
Wild cattle have created problems on the Gila National Forest since the 1970s, when a rancher abandoned the animals on the Redstone parcel within the Gila Wilderness Area, according to a Forest Service memo. The memorandum defines feral cattle as those without brands, ear tags or other signs of ownership.
“These cattle have not been bred, cared for by private owners, or kept or raised on a ranch for multiple generations and are therefore not domesticated,” the service said in the note.
The difficult terrain of the forest, as well as the “wild and uncooperative nature of the animals,” makes capturing them alive challenging and dangerous for both the animals and the people involved, according to the note.
According to the authorities, the problem posed by wild cattle is twofold. First of all, cattle are aggressive towards humans. In the note, the service claims that wild bulls have charged hikers in the Gila Wilderness.
Second, the intensive grazing habits of herbivores have damaged the environment and the natural habitats of native species, according to the memo. Trampling by cattle and erosion of stream banks have also damaged water quality.
“It has been a difficult decision, but the lethal removal of feral cattle from the Gila Wilderness is necessary to protect public safety, habitats for threatened and endangered species, water quality, and the natural character of the Gila Wilderness,” Gila National Forest Supervisor Camille Howes said in the news release.
“Wild cattle in the Gila Wilderness have been aggressive towards visitors to the area, grazing year-round and trampling the banks of streams and springs, causing erosion and sedimentation,” Howes continued. “This action will help restore the wilderness character of the Gila Wilderness that is enjoyed by visitors from across the country.”
According to the news release, some ranchers are concerned that some of their tagged cattle may have strayed into the Gila Wilderness in recent years. The service stated that it “commits to continue working to find joint solutions” and that it will collaborate with ranchers to locate and remove tagged cattle.