For generations, the Heber wild horses have made their home in the Mongollon Rim in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. They survive with limited human intervention, and in recent years, their numbers have grown. The herd has also been a focus for controversy. Several horses were slaughtered earlier this year, and the Forest Service has debated plans for the herd’s future.
After several years of indecision, the Forest Service recently released a proposed plan for herd management. After reading the fine points, several organizations and wild horse supporters have expressed their concern.
The public has until March 16 to submit comments on the plans and help shape the final decision.
The proposed plan will restrict the herd’s territory to an area of 21 square miles—a tiny fraction of the public land that makes up the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
Along with the limited territory, the plan addresses the need to cull the herd. The Forest Service reports there are currently between 292 and 471 Heber wild horses. They also say the herd is growing exponentially every year. The Forest Service’s proposal states the area is at risk of overpopulation, and the herd should be reduced to a range of 50-104 horses.
While the Forest Service supports the need for stricter herd management, not everyone agrees with this proposed plan.
The Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance argues that those numbers do not allow enough genetic diversity to keep the herd going. In a Facebook post, they predict that this aggressive culling will eventually lead to the herd’s extinction.
Advocates for the wild horses also say the herd has suffered due to livestock fences that were built long after the herd was established in the area. The fences keep the herd from roaming, and during a 2018 drought, they cut off many horses from water. They say the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 should have prevented those fences. And the Forest Service is prioritizing the needs of livestock over the previously established herd of wild horses.
The law requires Forest Services to accept and pay heed to all public comments before finalizing the plan. Officials will use the comments to explore the impacts and alternatives to the proposal. They will also shape the requirements for an Environmental Assessment.
Click here to read the full proposal and decide for yourself what the future should look like for the Heber wild horses.