HEBER/OVERGAARD — Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNF) representatives are still unable to comment on the investigation into two dead horses found between Oct. 11 — 13 off of Forest Service Roads 50 in the ASNF.
“There is no press release because the Forest Service is unable to comment regarding an open investigation,” says Steve Johnson, Apache- Sitgreaves National Forests Public Affairs Office Information Assistant. “Until the investigation can be completed fully, we cannot discuss any details or answer any questions about the horses,” he added.
The investigation into the death of the horses is in the hands of the Law Enforcement Division of the Forest Service which operates independently of the Black Mesa Ranger District where the horses were allegedly shot to death.
“It could be months before the investigation is complete,” says Johnson who also acknowledged that the issue has received statewide attention. “Different versions of the story are circulating but the Forest Service still cannot comment at this time.”
For now, it is unclear if the shooting of the horses was intentional or if the two incidents are even related.
Tip Line and rewards established
Although the investigation is within the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) has set up a tip line at 1-800-78-CRIME or Dispatch at 928-524-4050 for anyone who has information about the death of the horses.
The NCSO social media page also indicates that there is a $2,500 reward “For the arrest and prosecution of the person(s) involved in the shooting of wild horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.” The $2,500 was put up by an anonymous donor according to Citizens Against Equine Slaughter (CAES).
“For those that may not feel comfortable calling the Sheriff’s office tip line, they may call 541-315-6650 directly and anonymously,” says Val Cecama-Hogsett of CAES. “Tips are already coming in on the line,” she added.
Horse advocates call Washington D.C.
“The Forest Service is not taking this seriously so we have escalated the issue to Washington D.C., “ says Cecama-Hogsett.
“We offered to have our veterinarians go out and remove the bullets from the horse carcasses at our cost after the horses had been lying there for five days,” Cecama-Hogsett explains.
“We were told by the Forest Service investigator, John Lopez, that they didn’t have the expertise to remove the bullets or do a necropsy. Then, within hours of our call, someone went out and buried both horses.”
“The horses aren’t seen as any value to the Forest Service so they don’t care,” says Cecama-Hogsett.
The controversy continues
The Heber horses continue to be a hot-button for horse advocates, local residents, ranchers, government agencies and a variety of stakeholders that disagree on how and who should manage the free-roaming horses.
Some consider the animals feral, while others consider them wild, deserving protection under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
Johnson is also one of the lead staff for the Heber Wild Horse Territory (HWHT) in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and says that the HWHT collaborative work group has moved the management plan forward significantly during the last year.