Public comments overwhelmingly support keeping wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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MEDORA, ND The wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park have won resounding support as living history remnants of the Old West in public comments on a new herd management plan.

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The National Park Service is conducting an environmental assessment for its proposed new livestock management plan for the horses, who number more than 185 and are dispersed among 15 bands that roam the park’s South Unit.

Earlier this year, park officials announced that their preferred alternative would be to phase out the horses and a small herd of longhorn steers in the North Unit. But other alternatives require a smaller horse herd or leave the herd intact.

Those submitting comments who took sides on the complete removal of the livestock overwhelmingly wanted the horses and livestock to remain, according to a summary compiled by the National Park Service.

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Forty-five comments supported the complete removal of the horses and livestock, while 2,867 opposed the removal, a ratio of more than 63 to 1 in comments posted during a 50-day period ending January 31st.

The park service recorded a total of 7,331 categorized comments contained in more than 19,000 submissions, including online comments and letters. Seventy-nine organizations submitted comments, including many wild horse advocacy groups.

The wild horses are a wonderful asset to this beautiful natural spot, said one comment in favor of keeping the horses. The only reason we visit TRNP is to see the horses in their natural environment, a real piece of old west history. We can see buffalo and cattle everywhere but not herds of wild horses.

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Another person who prefers to keep horses, which Theodore Roosevelt wrote that he saw during his ranching days in the 1880s, considers them historically significant and worthy of preservation.

The horses in the park are a piece of living history, the person wrote. They become a story of things past, like so many other things that humanity has failed to protect and preserve. I strongly believe that the presence of horses in the park should be preserved for future generations.

A photograph of the wild horses roaming Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.  Photo courtesy of Deb Lee Carson.

A photograph of the wild horses roaming Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Photo courtesy of Deb Lee Carson.

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A small minority of comments supported the removal of the horses and cattle.

Domestic livestock are not native to this park’s natural ecological system and compete for limited forage with native wildlife species that depend on that same forage and are already under stress from drought and other causes, one person wrote.

But another commenter said the wild horses are a native species and belong in the park along with bison and elk.

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They are originally from North America and belong here, wrote the person. They contribute to ecosystem balance by providing ecosystem services simply by being on land.

Another wrote: These horses have survived side by side with wildlife for hundreds of years. Wild horses will regulate themselves. If there isn’t enough food, they don’t need human interference. Please leave these wild horses alone.

Some who wanted to see the horses continue to roam the park have advocated for a smaller herd, including at least one published comment that furthered the park’s current goal of maintaining a herd of 35 to 60 horses, which has been policy of the park from a 1978 environmental assessment.

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Reducing herd size from 35 to 60 would be the best option overall, wrote one person.

But others disagreed with this view and cited research showing that a minimum herd size of 150-200 horses is needed to maintain a genetically healthy and viable herd.

Park officials did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages, so it’s unclear how much weight they will give public comments in drafting the proposed environmental assessment, which is due for release this summer.

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A photograph of the wild horses roaming Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.  Photo courtesy of Deb Lee Carson.

A photograph of the wild horses roaming Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Photo courtesy of Deb Lee Carson.

Once the draft is published, another round of public comments will follow. Once these comments have been reviewed, a final environmental assessment and livestock management plan will be issued.

North Dakota public officials have overwhelmingly expressed support for keeping the horses and longhorns. Those urging the park to keep the horses include Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both RN.D., Governor Doug Burgum, the North Dakota Legislature through a unanimous resolution, and the state’s five tribal leaders.

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Read the full summary here:

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of topics including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294

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