The National Park Service (NPS) is currently seeking public input on the Draft Environmental Assessment for a Livestock Plan for the wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). Unfortunately, the plan is on track to eliminate North Dakota's only wild horse herd.
The TRNP's approximately 195 horses are managed by a 1978 Environmental Assessment. While a new management plan is necessary, the EA is unacceptable as it proposes three alternatives that would lead to the destruction of the Theodore Roosevelt wild horses.
The alternatives are limiting the herd to an unsustainable 35-60 wild horses that would require the removal of about 150 horses; expediting the herd's reduction to zero wild horses; and reducing the herd to no wild horses via a phased approach. All three alternatives would require the dangerous use of helicopters to round up and remove these historic horses.
The NPS would give Tribal Nations the first opportunity to take captured horses and then auction off the remaining horses on a government website. Any horses the agency is unable to sell would be euthanized.
Although wild horses are a reintroduced native species, the NPS classifies them as "livestock" even though they have roamed the badlands for centuries, and the agency provides no care for them. The horses fend for themselves alongside bison, elk, and other wildlife. In addition, the NPS refers to them as a nonnative species despite scientific evidence suggesting otherwise. Also driving the removal of the wild horses is the Park's "need" to align management of its bison herd with Secretarial Order 3410 which is a Department of the Interior's initiative to restore wild and healthy populations of American bison and the prairie grassland ecosystem.
Currently, about 600 bison live in the TRNP with the wild horses; unlike the bison, the NPS does not consider the horses to be a native species and part of the native prairie ecosystem.
During the scoping period, 19,000 public comments were submitted, with the majority requesting the NPS maintain a genetically viable herd of at least 150 horses in the TRNP. The North Dakota Governor, Doug Burgum, North Dakota State Legislation, and other nonprofit organizations have offered resources to help the NPS maintain the wild horse herd at this level. The NPS, however, dismissed an alternative that would allow for a minimum of 150 horses in the herd to maintain genetic diversity.
The Theodore Roosevelt wild horses need a better solution. Moving forward, the NPS must adopt a management plan that uses current science and herd data to maintain a healthy breeding population of at least 150 horses while maintaining vital bloodlines.
The NPS should also implement a fertility control program with PZP, which has a 40-year history of being reversible and safe even for pregnant mares, rather than using GonaCon. The Theodore Roosevelt wild horses are an essential part of the park and state's historical and natural heritage, and they're a significant tourist attraction for North Dakota.
Many historians believe they are descendants of Sitting Bull's horses and related to the rare Nokota breed.