HEBER/OVERGAARD — The public could weigh in with comments until April 22. A protest took place on the same day.
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group and the American Wild Horse Campaign have teamed up to oppose the U.S. Forest Service’s management plan for the Heber Wild Horse Territory in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. The wild horse groups are urging the public to weigh in against the plan before the deadline on April 22nd. The plan proposes the removal of nearly every wild horse living on the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest inside as well as outside of this last federally protected wild horse territory on Forest Service lands in Arizona.
“The wild horses of northern Arizona have lived on these lands for more than a century, even before the Apache Sitgreaves was a National Forest,” said Simone Netherlands, President of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, citing evidence from the AZ State Archives mentioning wild horses in the Heber area in 1907. “They are proud part of Arizona’s history and heritage, and Arizonans want wild horses humanely managed, not rounded up and stuffed in holding pens. If we want to save these heritage wild horses, Arizonans must speak up in their defense now.”
“Like the bald eagle, the Heber wild horses are protected as national symbols of freedom by the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. However, the Forest Service’s management plan treats these national treasures like trash, proposing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to get rid of most of them,” states Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of the American Wild Horse Campaign. “The plan perpetuates an inhumane and failed management approach, while ignoring more sensible options like humane birth control, which has proved highly successful in programs by the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group and American Wild Horse Campaign in wild herds in Arizona and Nevada.”
Key elements of the Forest Service plan the groups oppose:
• Setting the “Appropriate” Management Level (AML) extremely low at just 50-104 wild horses on 19,700 acres…. Even at high AML, that’s one horse for every 394 acres! This number is far too low to maintain a genetically viable population of wild horses in the Territory. This will mean that the Black Mesa Ranger District will round up hundreds of wild horses in northern Arizona from Forest Lakes all the way to Show Low, as they are all outside of the official Heber territory.
• Failing to protect the Heber wild horses, who have been the target of illegal hunting since 2018…. Instead of spending money to get rid of the wild horses, the Forest Service must work harder to protect these federally protected equines from harm and to find the person(s) responsible for their illegal killings. Should a population of only 50 horses be left on the Forest, this illegal killing of horses could literally decimate them overnight.
• Failing to treat the Heber wild horses fairly. With the incredibly small population size, wild horses are provided an unfair share of public lands resources -- just 600 Animal Unit Months of forage per year, while cattle are permitted 5,730 Animal Unit Months to graze within the Territory. Instead, the Forest Service should adjust livestock use in the Territory in order to give wild horses their fair share of resources on public lands designated as their habitat. This reallocation would allow for a larger, more sustainable wild horse population and save taxpayers millions in capture and storage costs for horses the Forest Service is currently proposing to remove from the range.
• Rounding up hundreds of wild horses, separating them from their families, and sending them to an already overcrowded federal holding system.… If removals must occur, they should be done exclusively through bait-trapping and in small numbers over time (no helicopters), to meet adoption demand and ensure that the horses do not end up in undesirable places and that Forest Service does not add to the thousands of wild horses already in off-range holding facilities across the country.
The groups are calling for an updated management approach that keeps the wild horses on the public land, provides them with a fair share of forage and water resources, and manages their numbers humanely with PZP fertility control, the immunocontraceptive vaccine utilized in both groups’ successful fertility control programs.
The public of Arizona and the rest of the U.S. has until Earth Day April 22, 2021 to weigh in on the plan. A protest is also planned on that day in Heber, Arizona. To submit comments you have to go to the Forest Service Portal before April 22nd and write a polite but to the point letter about your opinion here:
For more information on how to submit comments and for a list of key points to raise, click here.
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group is an Arizona non-profit organization established to protect, monitor and scientifically study the Salt River Wild Horses. The SRWHMG has been spearheading the effort to secure lasting protections for this iconic and beloved wild horse herd in the Tonto National Forest. The group partners with the State of Arizona for the humane management of the Salt River herd, including a highly successful fertility control program that has stabilized population growth within its first two years.
The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation’s leading wild horse advocacy organization, dedicated to defending America’s wild horses and burros to protect their freedom, preserve their habitat, and promote humane standards of treatment. AWHC currently implements the largest wild horse fertility control program in the world for a population of 3,000 state managed free-roaming horses in a 300,000-acre habitat in Northern Nevada.