Managing Feral Horses on National Park Service Lands

wild horses at theordore roosevelt national park

Are the wild horses and burros living on National Park Service lands not protected by the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act? Just a thought, since the article below makes it seem like in some of our National Parks, officials could just go out and “eradicate them”. There is nothing in the article that really addresses whether the horses are humanely dealt with or not. If any of our readers works for the National Parks system or knows the answer, be sure to comment! ~ HfH

From: The Horse
By: Michelle Anderson

wild horses at theordore roosevelt national park

Picture taken at T. Roosevelt Nat’l Park. Young horses will stay with their natal herd until they are two or three years old. This group of horses consists of a yearling foal and newborn foal with their mother.

This is a synopsis of a presentation to veterinarians during The American Mustang session at the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
 

For most people, the mention of wild horses in the United States conjures images of Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered American Mustangs roaming the West. However, pockets feral horses also live throughout the country on National Park Service (NPS) lands and are managed by this federal agency.

Jenny Powers, DVM, PhD, an NPS wildlife veterinarian, presented the unique challenges of managing feral horses on NPS lands during the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She also described the NPS’s relationship with the BLM in co-managing these horses.

Horses and ponies currently reside in about 20 NPS units; 10 units contain feral donkeys and burros. These herds include, among others, the famous Assateague Island ponies residing off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, the Shackleford ponies of Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina, and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park feral horses in North Dakota.

The NPS formed under the Organic Act of 1916 with the mission “to conserve the scenery and the natural historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Further amendments solidified the NPS’s value of preserving the “naturalness” of parklands, Powers explained.

And, within the definition of “naturalness,” lies the NPS’s challenge regarding equid management. Because NPS horses are feral domestic animals, not native wildlife, argument as to whether they’re a natural part of the ecosystem exists. While horses and burros currently reside on public lands, they aren’t native.

The original North American equine inhabitants went extinct by the end of the Pleistocene epoch, which ended approximately 11,700 years ago. Europeans, namely Spanish conquistadors, reintroduced horses to North America in the late 15th century.

Horses played a vital role in transportation, military action, and agriculture as the United States formed and settlers headed west. However, as reliance on horses and other equids dwindled with industrialization, equids were released or abandoned on western rangelands or remained as remnant herds from early colonial exploration, homesteading, and ranching in areas around the country, Powers said.

Equids residing on NPS lands fall into four categories regarding their management:

  1. Animals that reside within an NPS unit and aren’t specifically managed as a cultural resource. “Management of these animals often ranges from attempting to eradicate these animals from within the park to no management, usually because of lack of funds,” Powers said, adding that many of these horses create natural resource damage, including soil erosion, damage to historic structures, and competition with native wildlife. Powers offered the examples of the burro populations in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Mojave National Preserve in California.
  2. Trespass animals from herds on publically managed neighboring lands, including BLM and U.S. National Forest. Herds crossing between federally managed lands are often co-managed by the agencies using similar methods, Powers said. Management efforts might include roundups, adoptions, and fertility control. “Examples include the famous Pryor Mountain horse herd that neighbors Bighorn Canyon National Recreational Area in Montana and horses that range from BLM onto NPS land on the periphery of Death Valley National Park in California,” Powers explained.
  3. Trespass animals from private lands or tribal reservation lands. In these cases, the NPS’s first priority is to confirm ownership of the animals and notify responsible parties of the trespass. If the animals are deemed abandoned, NPS officials have several options, including fencing, roundup and removal, and lethal removal. “Examples where this occurs include Big Bend National Park in Texas, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and Glacier National Park in Montana,” Powers said.

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AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
12 Comments
  • thehorse.com has long taken press releases from the BLM and other organizations with an economic interest in expanding cattle ranching and printed them verbatim. There’s no context, no balance and no journalism involved here. I wouldn’t take anything they do seriously, and I certainly wouldn’t bother to reprint it. Their coverage is advertiser driven. Case closed.

    April 2, 2015
  • Maggie Frazier

    It amazes me that if a horse steps into a Park they automatically lose any protection from the BLM (such as it is). These are no more domestic horses than any other wild horse or burro – but have even less protection than the wild herds that the BLM “manages”>

    April 2, 2015
  • Ann Mond

    It all depends on whether at the time that act was signed into law, any particular herd of horses was officially recognized and given status in an Herd Management Area, or a Herd Area, or a Territory. There are herds that got left out ~ overlooked ~ who had however, been in whatever area for hundreds of years prior to the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Without an officially designated area as their official home, these horses have NO protection. The Salt River Wild Horse Herd outside of Mesa, Arizona, in an area managed by the Forest Service but also not ever given an HMA or an HA or a Territory,…are a perfect example of such a herd. And that is why it is so terribly crucial to advocate for them in quite a dedicated fashion. WE are all they have standing between them & any possible roundup, after which they could and likely would be taken to auction and bought by killbuyers and sold to slaughter. A real risk for this particular herd.

    April 2, 2015
  • Ann Mond

    Vickery,
    Michelle Anderson is a local Arizona wild horse advocate who is not part of the staff of the horse.com.
    She is working hard to save the Heber Wild Horse herd here in Arizona where I live.
    Simone Netherlands is another person in Arizona working very hard to save another herd in AZ…the Salt River Wild Horses.
    You may be familiar with her. She and Michelle Anderson were introduced to each other by me.
    In answer to the question posed by this blog below the blog headline:
    It all depends on whether at the time that Act was signed into law, any particular herd of horses was officially recognized and given status in an Herd Management Area, or a Herd Area, or a Territory. There are herds that got left out ~ overlooked ~ who had however, been in whatever area for hundreds of years prior to the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Without an officially designated area as their official home, these horses have NO protection. The Salt River Wild Horse Herd outside of Mesa, Arizona, in an area managed by the Forest Service but also not ever given an HMA or an HA or a Territory,…are a perfect example of such a herd. And that is why it is so terribly crucial to advocate for them in quite a dedicated fashion. WE are all they have standing between them & any possible roundup, after which they could and likely would be taken to auction and bought by killbuyers and sold to slaughter. A real risk for this particular herd.

    April 2, 2015
    • She is the digital managing editor. Sounds like a staff position to me. And not an insignificant one, either.

      April 2, 2015
    • Further more, I find it strange that a wild horse advocate accepts the AAEP’s terminology “feral” without questioning it. Even the BLM uses the term “wild.” Who’s story is she telling here?

      April 2, 2015
  • Ann Mond

    maybe it’s a different Michele Anderson. The woman I know spells her first name with only one L.

    Aside from that…what I wrote as the bulk of my comment, the stand alone comment that wasn’t addressed to you, was in response to the question posed by the author of this blog;
    “Are the wild horses and burros living on National Park Service lands not protected by the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act? Just a thought, since the article below makes it seem like in some of our National Parks, officials could just go out and “eradicate them”. There is nothing in the article that really addresses whether the horses are humanely dealt with or not. If any of our readers works for the National Parks system or knows the answer, be sure to comment! ~ HfH”

    I learned from Simone Netherlands the reason why some herds of wild horses (including the Salt River Wild Horses in Arizona) on public lands are not protected and can indeed be rounded up without advance notice and taken directly to a livestock auction, and easily sold to kill buyers. These herds were overlooked at the time the 1971 Act was passed, even if they had been present for hundreds of years already, in 1971. As far as I know it doesn’t matter what agency has jurisdiction over them, if they are not part of a herd that either has been given and HMA, or an HA, or a Territory, they are called estray or feral and the same rules that protect other herds that are have a legal right to be where they are
    don’t (necessarily at least) apply to horses that are part of that herd.

    I mostly just wanted to pass that information along because a lot of people don’t know.

    April 2, 2015
  • Barbara

    What a shame there is no way to comment on the Horse and correct the feral designation.

    April 3, 2015
  • Michele Anderson

    Just to clarify things, I am Michele Anderson, site administrator from the Heber Wild Horses Facebook page. I did not write that article.

    April 3, 2015
  • Janet Schultz

    Who gives credence to a veterinarian speakingon the subject of horses on forest land to a group that is clear in their pro-slaughter stand. What is her angle on speaking of forage degradation, native or introduced? What is the connection? Her angle? Those are buzz words though, aren’t they? I spoke to Tonto National Forest employees – they were surprised upon the news of concerns for the horses. They do consider them to be tribal horses. But don’t have any reason, at this time, to think of disposing of the horses. Its nice that people care for them, Tina Wooten, has some amazing photographs and paintings of the Salt River Horses and has chronicled them for years. I learned of those particular horses through followong Tina on Facebook. She loves them which you can see clearly in the astonishingly intuitive photographs. She also has a beautiful Facebook page called Mermaids of Salt River. I also definitey think anyone who cares should call either National Forest and schedule a tour.

    April 4, 2015
  • Ann Mond

    The Salt River Wild Horse Management group has been involved in regular conversation and meetings, for several years, with the key people within the Tonto National Forest Service about this herd of wild horses , and has consistently maintained a clear line of communication with them. Tomorrow, Monday April 6, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group is conducting a clean-up day for the area this herd inhabits, removing old barbed wire and other things that are hazardous to the horses. This has been organized in conjunction with the Forest Service. All volunteers who wish to assist in this are quite welcome. Please see this page on Facebook for details: https://www.facebook.com/saltriverwildhorsemanagementgroup

    It is indeed true that AT THIS TIME, there are no plans in place to conduct a round up of this herd, but it is ALSO indeed indisputably true that the Forest Service will most definitely NOT GUARANTEE for any time in the future, that a round up would never be conducted, and it is also quite true that the Forest Service would legally be able to round them up with NO advance public notice should they ever desire to do such a thing. This herd has no legal protections in place to prevent this from happening. The biggest asset that this herd has is caring advocates and the loving public and local people who are willing to maintain a very respectful relationship with the Forest Service.

    April 5, 2015