Advocates, Feds at Odds Over Wild-Horse Herd Near Heber

A herd of wild horses in the Heber-Overgaard area is at the center of a debate between the U.S. Forest Service, which wants to control the horses' population, and environmentalists, who argue they should be left alone.

The Arizona Republic reported last month that the horses, which number at least a few hundred, are the subject of a management study being conducted by the Forest Service, although it likely won't be completed until 2016. Some of the horses may be descended from an originally wild herd, while others escaped from White Mountain Apache Tribe land and other places when the Rodeo-Chediski Fire tore through the area in 2002.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management manages two herds in Arizona totaling about 200 wild horses, according to the agency's website. The Forest Service also manages several horse and burro territories in the state.

The agencies have the authority to determine how many horses the land can support and whether the herd's population is managing itself.

In some cases, federal agencies say, domestic horses enter the wild after escaping from or being abandoned by private owners.

"I would estimate a substantial portion of horses out there. ... God knows where they came from," said Ed de Steiguer, a University of Arizona professor and author of a book about the history and politics of wild horses in the U.S.

Local resident Mary Hauser, who has tracked the horses for years, is fighting to prevent them from being rounded up.

Hauser frequently follows the washes, meadows and clearings where the "Magnificent Seven," a band of male horses, and Old Buck, her personal favorite, spend their days. She said she has never touched or fed the horses but has seen births, deaths, fights and tender moments.

You can learn more about the situation at the Heber Wild Horses Facebook page.

(Photo: Three of the wild horses from the Heber-Overgaard area. | Courtesy of Heber Wild Horses Facebook page)

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These animals are so majestic and are a symbol of freedom and everything that is good in our great country! They take my breath away every time I see them! They are good for their environment and definitely should be shown preference for staying over cattle since it is the horses natural territory. Cattle are the ones that should go if any but I have been out there a lot and there is plenty of room and resources for all the creatures. Don't let these animals be rounded up or killed! It would be an incredible injustice.

As I understand it these animals are protected under The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (Public Law 92-195) "wild free-roaming horses and burros" means all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United State. So it doesn't even matter what these horses heritage is as some argue. If they are living in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and are not branded they are wild. Seems like that should be the end of the argument. They are protected by law.

My family and I have been camping in the Heber area for the past 30+ years and the cool summer weather at this 7500’ elevation is a welcome relief from the desert heat. One of our favorite activities is hiking in this beautiful forest, and often during a hike or just relaxing at camp we have encountered small groups of what I now know to be the “Heber Wild Horses” in their natural habitat. These magnificent creatures often graze through the area providing an opportunity to photograph them, study their habits, and observe how they interact with each other within their family structure. This is beauty in nature not found in an urban environment. When I first read about the US Forest Service planning to do a round-up of these horses my first question was Why? Are they detrimental to the area?...The answer of course is NO. After further study I found that these wild horses have a rich history having been brought to this area several hundred years ago from Spain by Padre Kino. (Much information on these wild horses is available through various websites). I was left to wonder what then was the purpose for the proposed round-up? After visiting several websites dedicated to the Heber Wild Horses I learned that these wild horses graze on US Forest Service land which is essentially owned by the public, and managed by the US Forest Service. The US Forest Service also leases a select number of grazing permits to cattle ranchers in the area that do not have sufficient private acreage to graze their cattle. It appears that some of these ranchers have complained to the Forest Service that the wild horses are competing with their cattle for the range grass and available water in this 20,000 plus acre forest area. (If the wild horses were removed more cattle grazing permits could be issued). These cattle ranchers seem to be very successful in influencing the US Forest Service to conduct studies to consider rounding-up and removing the wild horses from their 400 year natural habitat. So much so that the US Forest Service is in the process of securing bids to construct several miles of water lines, water tanks, holding pens, etc. in this area. It is clear that these proposed improvements are only intended to benefit these cattle ranchers. What I find particularly egregious is the fact that the cost for these improvements will be borne by the taxpayer, and little if any by the cattle ranchers who reap the windfall. This appears to be another case so often seen in politics today, where if enough influence is applied, the right lobbyist used, or with friends in the right places, you can push forward your agenda and steamroll the opposition no matter how disastrous the outcome. If left unchallenged, the Heber Wild Horses will be removed from their habitat (our land) by the US Forest Service, sold to slaughter houses, and/ or reduced to an unsustainable number that will ensure their eventual extinction, all for the profits of private enterprise. This is unconscionable . I urge you to support the efforts of these groups to preserve the Heber Wild Horses so that current and future generations can experience this true American treasure first hand. We are their lobbyist and their only voice.

In a country that seems hell-bent on putting an end to the american wild horse, it infuriates and saddens me that again, another "great idea" arises from the ashes to put more wild horses off their native lands. I am asking you to please reconsider this act and in stead, Remember how important these wild horses are and how important it is that they stay wild and free in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. Most importantly, I ask you to bear in mind what an important part of Arizona's history they are. Don't jump on this runaway band wagon,to only be a prat of the eventual extinction of the American wild horse, a symbol of strength, freedom and the TRUE AMERICA!

It is nothing less than shameful what the BLM and USFS are attempting to do across the western states by decimating the wild horse/burro populations. The horses have been here for at least a century if not longer and have been protected by federal law as icons of America and the old west since laws were passed in 1971. It is the greed of "welfare" cattle ranchers who are spearheading the removal of the horses in favor of their cattle herds. By reducing the horse population on TAXPAYER SUPPORTED rangeland the ranchers plan to populate that very rangeland with their "for profit" cattle. It is our tax dollars that support and pay for the rights of the wild horse population to continue living free, wild and untethered by fences, corrals, holding pens, or prison yards. This is the land the ranchers propose to take away from our horses and use to make profits/money for themselves. I believe that if they have purchased more cattle than they can afford to feed and keep on the lands they have deed to they simply need to get rid of their excess. AS A TAX PAYER I AM NOT WILLING TO EXCHANGE OUR HORSES for free grazing cattle. I AM NOT WILLING TO support welfare ranchers with MY TAX DOLLARS, PERIOD but especially not at the expense of our horse population. It appears, however, that the BLM and USFS have "bought" into the lobbying efforts of these ranchers or are taking kickbacks from them, and are now advocating for and using terrifying helicopter roundups, introducing new "studies of range management" and other elimination practices to reduce the wild horse populations and rangeland acreage EVEN THOUGH IT VIOLATES FEDERAL LAW. In conclusion, I VEHEMENTLY object to those tax dollars designated for the protection of wild horses and burros to be used for any other purpose than intended and particularly NOT to put money in some cheapskate ranchers' pockets at the expense of the wild horse. WAKE UP BLM...USFS...get some kahunas and stand up to the cattle grazing groups. STAND YOUR GROUND as they say in Florida...help us save this important part of the history of the wild west.

Why is it that Cattle - Oil Companies - Mining Companies get what they want and you DO NOT do the job that you swore to uphold..By Protecting These Horses and Burros...Wonder do you all receive " Beef for life, Shares in the Mining & Oil Companies " Why not cut the "Cattle Ratio to Wild/Feral Horse Ratio down.. Cattle out number EVERY HUMAN 5 to ! and that's being conservative..Why slaughter Horses..Do not the majority Cattle get slaughtered..Get the Ratio even..We do not use 3% of the Beef raised on Public /Private Lands..Make a Preserve that has the resource's (Food & Water) to support all Wild/Feral Horses and Burros..Make it that NO CATTLE can access the Preserve PERIOD..Charge Ranchers for removal of said Cattle and All Acreage that would be need to make Preserve a Reality...You Owe Them That...Do The Job You Swore To DO..Thank You

These horses came to the Apache Sitgreaves Forest following the catastrophic Rodeo Chediski fire. The boundary fence was damaged during the fire and the horses naturally came onto the forest from the Indian Reservation. That was in 2002. Since that time they have done what horses do and that is reproduce. Unfortunately the resources in this forest are not able to support a growing herd that is not managed. Every Spring, or at least 9 out of 10 years the natural water sources in this area dry up before our Summer rains start. At the present time, ranchers haul in water to supplement the natural sources and this water benefits ALL the animals, including deer, elk, cattle and horses. Please understand that removing the Rancher is not a viable solution. The rancher's cattle are managed and controlled. They are only in one pasture for a short time, then they are relocated. The horses on the other hand remain in the same area until all the resources of that area are depleted. If the Rancher doesn't provide the water, who will?

All stories have two sides. Some think the ranchers do not contribute to the areas they are permitted to graze. This is not true. They are only allowed in a section for a few short weeks and then move to another. These sections are rotated so some are left to rest each year. The ranchers maintain the waters. They keep up the trick tanks, they keep up the mud tanks that is also used by wild life. When these resources run out they haul water. They put salt out that is shared with the wild life. Elk and deer also forge in the same areas, but they rotate themselves. Horses do not. Ranchers are not allowed to let their cattle do this, which is as it should be. Horses are beautiful and wonderful creatures but they will over populate and eat out areas. I think there are resources for all if managed correctly.

We know that horses will self regulate there herds. They know better than to over populate an area. This has been studied and proven true. It is also why they mix up their herds so as not to interbreed. Some animals that have existed for 1000's of years know these things.

Let them stay! The wild horse herds have been there for many years... leave them alone. They are just one of many that make Arizona so special.

While I'm sure there is more to this debate than I might understand, I don't care what it takes, money, taxes, manpower, etc., these animals have a perfect right to live and exist in the wild.

There are so many reasons that these horses should be left alone besides being part of our long heritage and history in the United States. They are keeping this area safe. After the Rodeo-Chediski Fire that occurred in this area in 2002, the horses became even more important as the area is in the process of rebuilding itself and we know this means more grasslands. These grasslands are kept in check by the wild horses by eating the top dry grasses that cattle do not eat. In by doing so, they expose the lower grasses and micro-organisms helping to restore this area. If the horses are removed, the fire danger goes up. Period. Simple as that. Now let's consider, unlike cattle, horses are not ruminants and therefore, do not have four sections of their stomach. This means that their waste contains more nutrients. When horses defecate, they give back to the land through enhancing soil quality. They are the re-seeders. They are also the wanderers...meaning they don't stay in one place and move more causing less harm to an area and they don't pollute the watering holes as they tend to come water and bathe then wander on. In the 18,000 acres that are available to these animals they are vital to the ecosystem. We know that the wild horses are the underdog, as the cattlemen have the money and the horses have no way to influence policy. Let us be there voice!!!!

The horses are simply trying to live quietly, mind their own business and enjoy the wonderful mountains of AZ. Doesn’t the government have more important things to do than worry about what they may or may not be doing? If the BLM has difficulty in finding other things to worry about, spend a little more time on the hiking trails and LOOK around for things to improve.

All over our country government officials are rounding up wild horse populations, destroying family herds and warehousing thousands in dirty, unprotected, desolute areas. Now Arizona wants to be a part of that program. How sad. Already the states of Utah and Montana have eradicated or are attempting to eradicate ALL wild horse and burro populations from their states. Why? Because big money is at the wheel. Ranchers who want more puplic grazing lands. Contractors who want to 'frack' on puplic lands. The very same lands that were designated as HMA (horse management areas) after the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro act, which Wild Horse Annie fought decades for. Has greed also hit Arizona? When and were will this despicable behavior end? Who/what state will stop and take a stand against greed? Is America destined to loose each and every wild horse and burro in the name of progress? Will our children and grandchildren see wild horses only in a museum and ask... what are those things..? Will your answer be... Oh, those are the wild horses who tamed the west and were our national icon, the government killed all of them. If we loose all of our public lands to greed what else will we loose, what will be next? Save the Heber herd, save any herd you can.

Back in 2005-2007 when the USFS wanted to roundup and remove all of the Heber horses the estimated count for the entire herd was 300-400 horses. As of the last official aerial count done by the USFS team in February of 2015 there are 320 horses. The anti Heber horse people insist the horses are overpopulating. The numbers speak for themselves...no overpopulation.

Those horses are protected by law, and have the right to live on those lands in peace. The ranchers who want to make a fat profit at the expense of the wild horses don't have a leg to stand on - pun intended. Manage your own lands. Leave the wild horses alone. The wild horses and burros do not overgraze the range - your cattle do.

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