Conservationists Argue For Horses Ecological Significance, Economic Value To Rural Communities

For the Love of Horses

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Animal Wellness Action and its partner organizations, the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Foundation, have urged the National Park Service (NPS) to reconsider its plans to remove free-roaming wild horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) in Medora, North Dakota.

“The National Park Service is being robotic and reflexive in wanting to depopulate horses from an area that has had large mammals on the landscape for tens of thousands of years,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy.

“So many North Dakotans are rightfully appalled by this scheme, noting that the wild horses provide beneficial ecological services and are also a key draw for thousands of visitors who drive millions in economic activity to gateway communities in the rural reaches of the state.”

The Park Service announced its intentions to revise its livestock management plans and conducted an environmental assessment to evaluate the consequences of two potential courses of action regarding the wild horse population in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

One option involved the complete removal of the horses from the park. This would involve capturing the horses and redistributing some to tribal communities, with the remaining animals either auctioned off or transferred to other entities.

Alternatively, the NPS explored methods to employ fertility control programs using PZP, a method with “a proven track record of safety and effectiveness over the past 40 years,” that the Park Service said will allow the horses to live out their natural lives within the park, but not breed further.

A robust debate involving Federal officials, North Dakota public officials, citizens and national equine protection organizations has continued since the announcement in 2023.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located in southwest North Dakota and alongside the future home of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library.

Opponents of the Park Services’ two plans argue that wild horses play a crucial role in maintaining the park’s grassland ecology and contribute significantly to the economic development of gateway communities.

With fewer than 200 wild horses inhabiting the 70,000-acre park, proponents of preserving the horses continue to advocate against physical removal.

According to Ross MacPhee at Rewilding America Now, removing wild horses from TRNP could have adverse ecological consequences, as these animals are vital for maintaining grassland health.

MacPhee emphasized the importance of considering the long-term implications of such actions on the park’s ecosystem.

The debate has drawn significant public attention, with over 19,000 comments submitted during the scoping period on the September 2023 Livestock Plan Environmental Assessment, the majority of which favored continued protection of the horses within the national park.

While some stakeholders, including North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, have urged the NPS to preserve the wild horse herd, the agency has yet to respond definitively to these requests.

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CUTLINE

A wild horse band runs freely through Theodore Roosevelt National Park at Medora, North Dakota.

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