A herd of least 150 feral cattle have become more than a nuisance in one of Southern California’s popular hiking areas. Officials and conservation agents say the cattle pose a threat to tourists and are damaging the ecosystem in the Mojave Preserve and Sand to Snow National Monument, located about two hours east of Los Angeles.
The cattle are “ripping up this monument and scaring the heck out of folks who cross paths with them,” Terry Anderson, a board member of the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep told the Los Angeles Times. “They also can transmit disease to native bighorn sheep. So, they need to be removed – and I’m all for lethal removal. They don’t belong here.”
Hikers and tourists have also become alarmed by a pack of pit bulls also in the area. Officials say the wild dogs have been killing and eating the feral cattle. The unfriendly cattle and dogs have created a crisis because visitors to the area have increased 40% last year.
The Obama Administration designated Sand to Snow as a National Monument in 2016, and visitors jumped from 90,000 to 148,000 in 2017. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management co-manage the monument’s 154,000 acres as wilderness. Those agencies plan to send a team of federal land managers and biologists to the area in March to devise a strategy to eliminate the feral cattle and wild dogs.
Officials believe the feral cattle are descendants of herds grazing the area from as long as a century ago. Smaller numbers of the cattle roamed the rugged terrain at higher elevations. Officials believe prolonged drought forced the cattle to lower elevations beginning about four years ago. In addition to undesirable human encounters, conservationists claim the cattle are adversely affecting the California desert tortoise, arroyo toads and bighorn sheep.
“The destruction to natural habitat is widespread and heartbreaking,” Thompson told the Times. “An eradication plan can’t come soon enough.”