Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.

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A plan by U.S. Forest Service officials to help control the population of feral cattle on national forest land near the New Mexico-Arizona border in the Gila Wilderness is drawing fire from ranchers who say shooting the animals from above in helicopters is a violation of federal law and won’t help to solve the problem.

Several environmental groups say they’ve been working on possible solutions with the Forest Services for years and nothing else has worked. Non-lethal methods have been tried before, they say, only to see the wild cattle population multiply exponentially.

“Unbranded – that is unowned – cattle within the Gila Wilderness, particularly in the sensitive riparian areas, have been a serious problem for many years. We know from reports from our members, and direct in-the-field monitoring by staff, that these feral cattle are doing significant damage and that they are actively breeding. New Mexico Wild fully agrees with the urgency of removing these illegal cattle and believes that the U.S. Forest Service is justified, indeed obligated, to remove this threat. Standing by while feral cattle run roughshod at the expense of the health of the land, waters and wildlife makes everyone look bad and it is past time this chronic issue be resolved,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild.

The Cattle Growers’ Association argues that since the number of feral cattle in the Gila National Forest is unknown, there is no way to hold federal officials accountable or determine if progress is being made in reducing the population. Some ranchers are questioning why federal officials are resorting to shooting the cattle despite the push by environmentalists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to handle problem wolves with nonlethal methods such as hazing. The Association has not publicly given an alternate plan to control the feral cattle population.

Results from an annual survey of Mexican gray wolves along the New Mexico-Arizona border by wildlife officials are expected in the coming weeks. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday in a statement that it does not think the operation will have an effect on wolves “due to the short-term nature of the carcasses and the limited utilization of the area by Mexican wolves.”