HEBER-OVERGAARD — There is no update or information that the new Law Enforcement Investigation (LEI) division of the U.S. Forest Service can share with the public regarding the shooting deaths of 28 Heber Wild Horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNF).
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still working on the cases. ASNF Forest Supervisor Anthony Madrid assured the Independent via Forest Service Deputy Public Affairs Specialist Katie Speranske that he “has been in contact with investigators as we all eagerly await updates.”
“At this time, law enforcement is not able to provide additional details as they may compromise their investigation but they are actively investigating,” also said Speranske and “Investigators continue to work towards a safe resolution.”
The Independent has followed the Heber Wild Horse shootings since October 2018 when two stallions were shot and killed outside of Overgaard. It is surmised by the community that the person(s) that shot the stallions in October 2018 is the same person(s) that has been shooting them intermittently over the last two years.
A total of 28 Heber Wild Horses have been confirmed shot to death or have died as a result of their injuries between October 2018 and January 2021. There were other horse carcasses in the forest that were too decomposed to discern manner or cause of death, according to the Forest Service in previous press releases.
The most recently confirmed shootings of Heber Wild Horses occurred January 9. The Forest Service confirmed four deceased horses “due to bullet wounds” on Jan. 13.
After the Jan. 9 report to forest officials about the deceased horses, a tip from the public indicated there might be a fifth dead horse in the same area of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
Officials confirmed five deceased horses in total, including four adult horses, (one a pregnant mare), found deceased on scene. A foal with severe injuries due to bullet wounds was found alive and had to be euthanized.
The end total - five more dead horses.
To date, no one has been arrested for shooting Heber Wild Horses in the forest east of Heber-Overgaard.
The horse shootings, however, go back much farther than 2018 and have been a source of vehement dispute since they first became protected in 2007. They are now included in the Wild, Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
Since 2007, the U.S. Forest Service, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests has been responsible for developing the Heber Wild Horse Territory Management Plan. This means it is their responsibility to manage the equines including their population, location and balancing the forest use by multiple stakeholders.
The Heber Wild Horse population increased following the Rodeo-Chediski Fire of 2011. The fire burned fences and horses flowed in and out of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
After 14 years, a proposed plan has finally been drafted by the Forest Service regarding management of the Heber Wild Horse herds. It has been made available for public comment several times during the last two years.
It is now in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The Forest Service has sent the plan to people and organizations who have indicated interest in the NEPA planning process.
The Forest Service will incorporate public comments into the proposal and its analysis where possible. From there, the Forest Service will prepare an environmental assessment in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other relevant Federal and State laws and regulations.
The environmental assessment will go through another public comment period so that changes can be incorporated as needed.
The final draft and environmental assessment will be made available to those who commented. This will be followed by the objection period.
The public is asked to direct information regarding incidents of this nature to the Tipline at Navajo County Sheriff’s Office: 1-800-78 CRIME (27463). Law Enforcement is offering up to $5000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of parties responsible.
To report a dead or injured horse, contact the Black Mesa Ranger District at 928-535-7300.
For other questions, please contact the Apache-Sitgreaves NF’s Supervisor’s Office at 928-333-6280 or visit the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/asnf.