HEBER — The national, non-profit wild horses advocacy group, Citizens Against Equine Slaughter (CAES), have reached out to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNF) with a request to transport water to a herd of 15-20 horses within the 300-450 horses that make up the total Heber wild horses population.

Advocates fear that the horses, also referred to as the “Heber wild horses” and “the Heber herd” may succumb to dehydration as extreme drought conditions have caused water holes, stock ponds and natural sources of water to completely dry up.

CAES representatives report that one horse has already died and that it’s a matter of time before more suffer the same fate. This particular herd cannot access water due to fencing that runs north/south in the area. “It’s not an issue of gates being open or closed because there aren’t gates in that stretch of fencing,” says Val Cecama-Hogsett of the Oregeon extension of CAES who is working with Arizona and local-area wild horse advocates.

Local residents that advocate for the wild horses and members of CAES contacted Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests representatives last week to ask for permission to transport water to the horses. However, there seems to be confusion as to what can be done and by whom.

“The community members are willing to take water to these horses right now,” said Cecame-Hogsett. “There should be some access for the horses to traverse. They need to be able to traverse the whole territory for water and for breeding and maintaining the genetic health of the herds,” she added.The ASNF understands the problem to be closed gates. However, CAES says that gates aren’t the root cause in this situation.

“There are no gates where these horses are,” explains Cecama-Hogsett of national advocate group, CAES. “The fences run north to south and there is no access on either end for the horses to get around. “There is water that they can see and smell to the west of them but they can’t get there.”

Local wild horse advocates along with their national CAES partners say they have a solution — they will bring water in for the horses.

However, the simplicity of bringing water into the area appears about as murky as the crusty remnants of dried-up water holes. There are a multitude of stakeholders that include but are not limited to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, local cattle ranchers, and Heber-Overgaard residents like Mary Hauser that actively advocate for the wild horses and are backed by national groups like CAES.

The Independent contacted Steve Johnson, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNF) Information Assistant, for comment as he is the lead staff with regard to issues surrounding the Heber horses. Johnson was unavailable to comment in detail because he was in Phoenix attending the ongoing, collaborate monthly Heber Wild Horse Territory meeting.

“There’s a lot of moving parts. We are in the process of coordinating everything with all the affected stakeholders,” said Johnson. “There are a lot of caveats to bringing water into the forest during a drought. For example, we are in Stage 2 Fire Restrictions and there are serious concerns about motor vehicles causing sparks. We have to keep everyone in compliance and we have to cross every “t” and dot every “i” in order to protect all resources,” added Johnson.

The ASNF has been in communication with the wild horse advocacy groups since last week and posted this message to their social media page on Friday, May 11: ”The ASNFs shares the public’s concern regarding the drought conditions on the Sitgreaves National Forest, and is working with the local public to ensure access to water for horses is available. The Black Mesa Ranger District is coordinating with local private individuals who have expressed an interest in providing water for the horses. Two of the private entities that are assisting with coordination efforts are the Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance and the Gila Herd Foundation. Private individuals may contact the Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance at 602-571-1232, and the Gila Herd Foundation at 928-978-3417.

Gates are open throughout the territory and the horses are free to roam and access available water. Only a few gates may be closed for the safety of the horses where water has become dangerously low.”

“The biggest statement I can make here is that this situation with a Heber wild horse dying of dehydration did not have to happen,” said Cecama-Hogsett of CAS.

“Originally, the ASNF said that we (CAES) could not bring the horses water without going through the Arizona Game and Fish Department,” said Cecama-Hogsett.

“Then they said that an environmental study had to be done. It wasn’t until Friday, May 11, that Steve Johnson from the ASNF said that we could give them water but there was already a dead horse by then.”

According to CAES, Johnson also said that providing water to the Heber horses could create a situation where the water creates mud as it dries up, similar to that of the Navajo Nation where horses searching for water became stuck in the mud and died.

“As long as the forage is enough for the horses and cattle, there isn’t a problem except for dealing with the interior fences,” say CAES representatives. “The cattle are moved around during different seasons. Opening the fences up, installing more gates and /or widening gates when the cattle aren’t in those areas help. The livestock numbers need to be decreased to give the horses principal use because the sanctuaries are to be managed principally for wild horse according to the 1971 policy enacted by Congress to manage wild free-roaming horses as components of public lands.”

“Arizona should take a whole lot of pride because that Heber area ecosystem is beautiful simply because it’s working,” said Cecama-Hogsett.

“That’s the big story — that Heber herd is the only one that IS working. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Let us and the community step in and help if need be.”

Reach the reporter at lsingleton@wmicentral.com

Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

(11) comments


The horse advocates have never lifted a finger to finance water projects. Every single water source for permitted livestock and wildlife has been built and paid for by Game and Fish and Ranchers. Horse advocates have a history of being uneducated when it comes to range management issues. They have no proof that horse died from lack of water. There are hundreds and hundreds of "feral horses" out there so the range is over-stocked resulting in poor conditions for all species that live in the forest. Sadly, the out of control horse herd will continue to deteriorate range conditions until it's too late; drought or no drought. Don't let the horse advocates fool you with their propaganda! It's time for our local citizens to educate themselves on this issue. A few horses, maybe 50-75, is fine but to have nearly a thousand is a disaster unfolding right before our eyes. Local ranchers and wildlife are going to lose out to these unauthorized animals. I hope common sense prevails. The forest service let this issue go on way too long (over 13 years) and ultimately they are to blame due to lack of leadership within their agency!


These are a non native uncontrolled species just like the Amazonian snakes in the everglades. Make glue out of them.


[angry] Sorry, these are not "wild" horses, they are feral. Deer? Wild. Elk? Wild. Horses? Nope...feral. They didn't spring from the loins of Father Kino's horses (which would still not make them "wild."); there was a small, manageable population on the Sitgreaves, and then the R-C fire burned the reservation fence, and feral horses crossed over and never went back. And they're growing in population, doubling every 5 years. We have a huge problem across this entire forest with the growing population of feral horses, and emotional politics don't help matters any. When is enough enough? We are facing a drying climate, and how long must we prop up these animals with supplemental water, and then what...food? Feeding areas? When will it end? How much will taxpayers have to foot the bill before they realize unmanaged horses are out of control? I'm OK with private organizations ponying up their own money to help these animals, but please don't use my tax dollars to help "save" a non-native, feral animal that is doubling in population every five years, contributing to overgrazing of the forest, and impacting true wildlife and their habitat. I've seen horses eat; they rip plants, roots and all, right out of the ground. Now we have hundreds across this entire forest. You can't drive anywhere on either the Sitgreaves or the Apache and not see feral horses. Cattle are managed; sheep are managed; elk, deer, and other big game are managed. Horses? Hands are tied; no handling, trapping, or touching any horse is allowed thanks to emotional legislation pushed by "horse lovers," who are going to let these horses be loved to death. These animals are growing and growing in population, and are faced with ongoing drought and degraded habitat into the future. Give them water this year, and then what? Next year too? How long can volunteers last hauling more and more water, especially if ranchers -- who manage a huge number of tanks that horses use too -- are pushed out because horses are eating the grass intended for livestock? When will enough be enough? No doubt the answer is: "when it's too late." Manage these horses NOW.


very well said [thumbup]


R333...You sir are absolutely correct. Feral or wild..the horses need to be managed!!

V Cecama-Hogsett

Thank you for doing this story Laura. I wanted to let readers know that it is CAES. I am not sure where you got the population numbers, but after speaking with one of our people this morning, that number is about twice what our boots on the ground people say are out there. However, I do not believe that an actual census has ever been done.Also, the situation on the Navajo was clearly staged as many horse people will tell you, and I pointed that out to Mr Johnson. Also the Heber group you mntion at the end of your article IS the CAES branch in AZ. And Barb Rassmusen from the Hila Group is also a CAES member. Mary Hauser is from the Heber Group. So it is CAES the ASNF has been wprking with, though it's clear they didn't know it. What is also clear is that different statements are being made to different parties, and we need to have one contact person with ASNF, Steve Best told one of our people we could not set out water. And this issue of creating mud...really? That is the most absurd reason I have ever seen for not providing water to an animal. If a private citizen did that with their animals we would be in jail, wouldn't we?

V Cecama-Hogsett

What gets me is the one someone said, that clearly repeated the rhetoric we always hear...these horses double in size every 5 years. The population in the Heber Wild Horse territory has remained the same since 2005. Apex predators are managing the population.The situation there is heating up because as the earth changes, and the drought becomes more severe ranchers need more land as forage becomes more and more scarce. They also comment about the deer and elk when claiming horses are not native. What they don't understand is there are 2 issues one is feral vs. wildlife and the other is native vs non-native or invasive. It is not native vs feral lol.

In the first issue we have feral vs wildlife, that issue was decided by the courts time after time, and is decided by the legal definition of wildlife. Our horses being managed as a protected species are in fact, legally wildlife.

The second issue native vs non-native or invasive is more complicated because it boils done to biology, DNA and genetics. But that has also been decided over and over by the science community, and is also something most Indigenous people will tell you is a non-argument. (Not the Tribal Fish & Game or Tribal Councils who get paid for killing our wild horses on their lands, but the Dine (elders) the real tribal members who still follow the traditional oral history and path that is their culture and heritage. Scientists and biologists will recognize that the first tale told by anti-wild horse people (the horses went extinct and were BROUGHT back) is an impossible statement to make if the animal is not native. Something that was never here (or non-native) cannot be brought back. The second tale told (they are a different genus, commonly called a different species) that domestication made them non-native. Domestication has not morphed into a new genus of horse. Equus was the last genus of horse here, in the 56 million plus years of horse evolution, equus is the genus that roams wild now. It matters little is someone caught one and tamed or trained it to behave in a different manner. Does a circus lion become a non-native species in it's country because it has been captured and trained? Has the DNA of off-spring from that lion made that off-spring any less native? NO. Have we seen the changes that are seen from wolf to dog, as they were domesticated happen to create a new genus? NO. What we have are different breeds. segments that have had certin traits bred in our out for breeders preference. They have not changed the DNA, there is no new genus that proves today's wild horses are some new genus. The argument really could be made that domestic horses are nothing more than a tame wild horse. And yes Prezwalski is a different genus, and were not here at the end of the Pleistocene Era, however ALL genus of equus originated right here on this continent, and in the case of the Prezwalski, the evolved from a genus in what they are when they moved to another continent, just as our last horses here on this continent evolved to be the equus genus, the same one here today. Now if we find Prezwalski DNA here...maybe you could say those wild horses are non-native here because they DID evolve into a separate genus of horse on another piece of land.

V Cecama-Hogsett

Sorry, one more comment and I promise I will get off the odium, because we will never change the opinions of some. In reply to loving these horses to death, this is exactly what I told MR Johnson in a conversation today. If wild horses do not have water, and it is purely because of a drought on their preserve, that is nature. However, if the horses do not have water because their access has been denied due to a man made situation, i.e. livestock fences, that is not nature. When humans interfere and create a situation it is our responsibility to fix issues that are caused by that interference. So in this case, horses are fenced out of other water sources, on their outlined territory where they would travel to when a traditional water source dries up, this is one of those situations man created and must be accountable for. And in this instance, CAES and our members ARE providing water, and we have done so in NM and other places as well. We discussed today some option to be looked at for a more permanent solution than hauling water out like we are now. The other thing I want to point out that no one seems to notice is that we have elk feeding stations all over the country, east and west, my favorite heard is in the mountains back east where people flocked during rut to hear the bucks. But the same agency that provides elk feeding stations also says people need to not feed wildlife because it causes them harm, a statement they make about mule deer, and in the case of wild horses they mistakingly claim wild horses are not wildlife, I guess we need to update them on legal definitions and court rulings too. However, elk who are a source of revenue for Fish and Game are fed and watered, often on the wild horse preserves, but in fenced areas that the elk and deer can jump in and out of but wild horses cannot access. Again human interference, accepted when it benefits humans, but we take no responsibility or accountability for wildlife when it does not?


Elk deer and antelope are native, horses and cattle are not. There are no elk feeders only water catch basins built with hunters money and mostly donated labor. Horses and cattle are here for someones pocket book period.


I am also concerned about how tax payer money is being spent in the A-S Forests. I recently learned that the monthly federal grazing fee for one cow and one calf was reduced from $1.87 in 2017 to $1.41 in 2018. I thought $1.87 was crazy low, but now they get a 46 cent AUM (per cow and calf!) discount? WOW! Where do I sign up? I can't even feed my cat for $1.41 a month! If I were a rancher, I wouldn’t be complaining about a few horses, deer or elk –I would instead recognize this for the sweet deal it is and keep writing those tiny checks to feed his/her cattle for months at a time. If these conflicts keep playing out on the evening news, tax payers may get on to the fact that they are losing millions in lost revenue and decide to do something about the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. My cattle farming friends back in the Midwest – the ones that have to raise cattle on their own land and pay for all of their feed - can’t believe there is such a big dust up over ranchers having to share a few acres of land. This land belongs to all of us taxpayers – not just ranchers and their cattle – and we really don’t think it is too much to ask to share less than 20,000 acres of the millions of acres grazed by cattle in Arizona. Honestly, complaining about a few horses just makes ranchers look petty and cheap. As for any “feral horses” on the range, the law has repeatedly and clearly shown that any horses currently roaming in and around the Heber Wild Horse Territory have as much, if not more, right to be in the A-S Forests than the real “non-native, feral animal that is … contributing to overgrazing of the forest, and impacting true wildlife and their habitat” – namely, cattle. Finally, wild horses, unlike cattle, don’t cost the tax payer a dime if they are allowed to roam freely on public land. It only gets expensive when the micro-managing begins at the request of that rancher (that is already getting the smoking deal.) The wild horses in this story wouldn’t even be in a situation where they need water if they were allowed to remove freely through their territory, but they can’t because of fences built for – you guessed it – the cattle ranchers. Seems to me the ranchers here should consider themselves lucky for all the gifts given to them courtesy of the tax payers and stop complaining about a few wild horses.


Question for the lady horse advocate. How much money has your organization given to any group in Arizona for the building of water catchments? $0.00 . Your argument is baloney. If we follow your ideology, then lets reintroduce the grizzly on the black Mesa. I am all for it. Lets all sit back and watch what happens. Which is exactly what is going on with this feral equine issue. Many of these horses have brands and are gelded. relocated into an ecosystem by people during the economic downturn and by migration from the nearby reservation. Those animals are under injunction, leave them alone. if they make it because they are indigenous then they should do well, your fence argument is bull. you can walk from canyon point to show low without hitting a fence following terrain.

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