The Heber Wild Horse Territory was established in 1974. It was in conjunction with the Wild Horse and Burro Act that President Nixon signed into law in 1971.

Since that time, horses in the Heber area have been studied extensively. In 1993, the Apache Sitgreaves National forest found that there were only two solitary mares in the area at that time. This changed in 2002 with the Rodeo Che-deski fire. Horses that were on the White Mountain Apache Tribal lands poured into the Apache Sitgreaves National Forests. Since 2002, feral horses have expanded their territory far beyond the area that was designated as the Heber Wild Horse territory. This is problematic, not only for the horse population, but for all wild animals that depend on the scarce resources and limited territory.

I travel quite a bit throughout Northern Arizona, and had the good fortune to be able to hunt in two of the units that are associated with the Heber Wild Horse territory this past year. Those units are designated as 3A/C and 4B. As an experienced hunter and dedicated conservationist, I’ve become deeply troubled by the dramatic changes in the area. The population of horses has exploded. While some horse advocates do not see a problem with a larger population, it has in fact created a larger ecological imbalance that must be addressed. This past year we have had a lot of rain. This was a blessing for all wildlife, but it was a rare occurrence. Such an exception only delays the inevitable. You simply cannot have a single species that grows each year exponentially without some management. The removal of a large amount of horses is absolutely necessary to maintain the balance for all wildlife.

The emotional response that horses generate is understandable. I have owned horses and they truly are magnificent creatures. I also love deer, elk, javelina, turkeys, antelope and wild sheep and I would like to see a natural balance of all animals that utilize our state. But this requires some thoughtful management.

All of the animals I mentioned above — other than horses — are regulated in numbers by the Arizona Game and Fish Department professionals. Their work encompasses professional surveys, translocations of species when necessary and establishing hunt guidelines to maintain an ecological balance across the state. Cattlemen, who utilize public lands for a fee to grow their cattle are highly regulated as well. They rotate their cattle from area to area and move them to market in the fall. They are also responsible for the massive numbers of water tanks that feral horses utilize continuously — a problem when they dominate these tanks and drive off other wildlife in search of water.

The only population of animals in our state that is not well managed are feral horses. Additionally, most of these animals have become what is termed “Habituated.” They have no fear of humans, as they have lived with unrestricted freedom against any human force for almost 20 years now. With the “wildness” gone from these animals, the area in question is rapidly taking on the appearance of a huge petting zoo.

The Arizona Game and Fish department cannot become involved with horses or cattle since they have no authority on these animals. In essence, horses are neither game nor fish. The Arizona Department of Agriculture can’t get involved, as the areas in question are federal lands.

The National Forest Service has worked for several years now establishing a management plan to remove some of the excess horses. That plan is greeted by an outpouring of responses by well-meaning, but totally biased horse advocates. When the public is given factual information about the history, trends and impact of the unanticipated changes that have occurred with the horse populations, the vast majority of people agree with the need for removal of the excess horses.

It is my hope that the public become educated about the imbalance of horses on public land, and how this is affecting all of the other wildlife. The number of horses that currently occupy the Sitgreaves Forest is unknown, but is well above 500 and has gone from a “designated territory” of 19,000 acres to an area far beyond what was designated. From the edge of the rim by Woods Canyon, all the way through Pinedale, horses prevail. The horses have also begun crossing the 260 Highway and are now spreading north into areas that were never considered “Horse Territory.”

It is time to implement the recommendations of the Heber Wild Horse Collaborative. The 19,000 acre Wild Horse Territory should be honored. It should also be monitored or fenced so that only horses have access to the area, and so they do not migrate as they have over the past 19 years. The purpose of that territory was established by Congress for a reason. I think they would be stunned today at what has happened to the Apache Sitgreaves National forest. The unintended consequences of the designation have placed the health off the forest and the animals that inhabit it at peril.

I hope that sportsmen and women begin to voice their concerns about the issues here and that they also contact their political representation to right what is becoming a horrible wrong. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests have spent considerable time and effort to have a sound management plan. It is time to support the implementation of that plan.

(9) comments


You make a compelling explanation!!


I know that horses are not wild game. They are trashing all of the forest so the wild game is now being push out. My feeling is the horses should be removed as they are not natural to the region. They need to be corraled up, taken to the glue factory or where ever they take them.


This take on the wild horses of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is extremely unfair and lopsided. The author of this letter is himself very biased concerning the mustangs and he resorts to hyperbole, or exaggeration and twisted facts and their interpretation in order to perpetuate what is in fact a very unfair and unjust plan by the Forest Service. This plan would cheat the horses of over 90% of their legal habitat which should cover a substantial portion of the Apache Sitgreaves National Forests because they were there in 1971 as unbranded and unclaimed horses and consequently met the definition of legal wild horses according to the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Furthermore the so called Appropriate Management Level whose mean is only 77 horses is way below genetic viability and the plan to PZP these horses and otherwise alter their robust natural vitality would send them into a steep decline and would be tantamount to domestication and contrary to the true intent of the WFHBA! People should honor these wonderful returned natives and learn to share the land and freedom at viable resource allocations for viable population as the WFHBA intends and the American people intend especially now at the 50th anniversary of the WFHBA!


The sportsmen & women know the facts. That horses are ruining the landscape. That horse numbers are out of control; they double their population every 4-5 years. That the math shows 800+ horses. That they are inefficient grazers & eat all day long. That they are not native. That they are displacing elk & turkeys. 100% of the blame for this mess lies with the forest service. It’s taken them 14 years and counting with no management plan in place. Our wildlife and ranchers deserve better!

Hiker woman

With the current human population growth and the fact that the forest is becoming smaller and smaller as we move in, it just makes sense that all wild animals need to be controlled for the betterment of all. Why was it enough for Congress to allocate 19,000 acres but now 300,000 is not enough? Horses are multiplying and destroying the habitat for all other species and Fish and Game can't do anything to help control them.


I love horses and I am not a hunter. If congress designated 19,000 acres for horses then that is what should be their territory. I think tat Mr. Koleszar has valid point that every other animal is monitored and removed. I like hearing elk bugling in the fall, as it is a beautiful sound. in recent years it seems there are less of them and a lot more horses. I hope that the forest removes horses or keeps them in the 19,000 acres that were designated for them. Put the extra horses up for adoption or place them in the facilities that are solely set for horses. Mustang is wrong in thinking horses should get the whole forest.


There is so much unfairness in the rash judgements by people who don't appreciate how ecosystems work and how the horses are wonderful at contributing positively to ecosystems, building soils, dispersing intact seeds, opening thickets. Their presence provides much needed balance to ecosystems where humans foist a surplus of cloven-hoofed ruminants like cattle and deer and elk, often eliminating natural predators and fencing and cross fencing the legal areas. No the plan by the Black Mesa Ranger District ASNF is extremely unfair and does not adhere to the true tenets of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Did you know that in USFS's Region 3, including Arizona and New Mexico, the USFS is only allocating for 1,402 wild horses and burros compared to 224,312 cattle and 46,136 sheep and goats. This is no way fair or just since the great majority of the legal areas for the wild horses and burros have been zeroed out or reduced to genetically non-viable levels and allocated only a tiny portion of the forage. The allocation of forage by the Forest Service in Region three for wild horses and burros is only 15,141 Animal Unit Months compared to 1,673,438 for cattle and 130,314 for sheep and goats. In total there are 1,718,893 AUMs given to livestock and only 15,141 AUMs given to the wild horses and burros. These wonderful equids whose ancestral lineages prove they are deep rooted North American natives are being subject to an ignorant and extremely unjust persecution by people who refuse to acknowledge all the many positive justifications these animals have for being here and for having the right to truly thriving long-term viable populations in corresponding long-term viable habitats that meet their survival requirements as the Act's mandates.


Oh Mustang, what a load of horse-hockey. No one is making their living from horses like ranchers do, hence the greater numbers of (managed and controlled) livestock. There are no ecological benefits from unmanaged horse populations that can't be met by management of other, controlled livestock and wild animals. The "historic lineage" is a bunch of malarky too. These are feral horses plain and simple. Come to the table with an understanding of how these things are trampling other resources and help figure out how to manage these things, because this "unfair!" stuff is getting sickening to everyone going out into the forest and seeing these beasts roam uncontrolled and impacting everything else out there. Just stop.


The horses will be managed by a group of professionals and the horse killers will be arrested. It's done.

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