The Controversy Behind Removing the Feral Horses From Arizona’s National Forest

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Mar. 17 2022, Published 2:16 p.m. ET

Arizona Horses
Source: Getty Images

Evidently, Arizona is one of the few U.S. states that is home to wild horses — which sounds like a majestic sight to see in theory, but the reality is quite the opposite. In fact, U.S. Forest Service is removing Arizona's wild horses later this month, because of how they interact with native species, vegetation, and habitats. Supposedly, the horses will be captured safely and relocated, though it's unclear what will happen to them as of publication.

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“Since the early 2000s, feral horses have been causing severe damage to the habitat of threatened and endangered species in an area," Jeffrey Todd, the spokesperson for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (ASNF) told AZ Family. He proceeded to detail other animals that are at risk because of the horses, in addition to the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. Todd went on to explain who will be involved with capturing the horses.

“The ASNF is starting with up to 20 heads," Todd continued. "There are approximately 400 head of unauthorized feral horses. We are working closely with the local community, grassroots collaborative, multiple horse rescues, permittees, and Arizona horse advocates to find creative solutions."

Even though he is assuring a humane removal, some environmentalists are concerned this may not be the case.

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Feral Horses
Source: Getty Images

Conservationists want to remove feral horses from Arizona.

Back in February 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society took the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to court, regarding the well-being of the critically endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

According to a press release, they felt government organizations weren't doing everything they could to control damage to the mouse's protected habitat from wild horses. But after more than two years, an agreement has finally been reached.

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The Forest Service will now be required to maintain fences throughout New Mexico that protect meadow jumping mouse habitats in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. They will also have to remove wild horses from the area.

“This is an important victory for jumping mice and Arizona’s rapidly disappearing riparian habitat,” Robin Silver, who co-founded the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “We’re glad the Forest Service has agreed to fix fences and round up feral animals."

Other endangered species' habitats are also reportedly at risk from feral horses, including that of: the Chiricahua leopard frog, narrow-headed garter snake, loach minnow, Apache trout, Three Forks spring snail, and Mexican spotted owl.

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Feral Horses Impact
Source: Getty Images

Why is removing Arizona's wild horses controversial?

Sadly, these "removal measures" could mean the wild horses will be killed. Courthouse News Service detailed the U.S. Forest Service's October 2021 plans to cull an entire herd in the Heber Wild Horse Territory. The horse herd was deemed too large to coexist with cattle and wildlife, and the group was to be reduced from 400 to 100.

Now, the Forest Service is supposedly looking into passive baiting and trapping measures, per AZ Family, and once they are captured, they will go to public auction.

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However, it is unclear what will happen to the horses from there. Many worry public auctions could attract "kill buyers."

“The fact is that the Forest Service will bring them to the Holbrook auction; now they cannot guarantee at that auction they won’t be purchased by kill buyers,” Arizona wild horse advocate Simone Netherlands told AZ Family. “There’s no way for them to guarantee that these horses are not going to end up on a dinner plate abroad.”

Hopefully this won't be the case, and that the Forest Service will plan ahead, to ensure the horses are treated humanely after being captured.

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