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'Risk of removal' Wild horses future in peril at National Park

Public commentary period nears end, advocacy efforts underway to save iconic herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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Amite, Boomer, and Spotted Blue, three wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, stand together in the beautiful badlands.
Photo by Chris Kman / For The Dickinson Press
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MEDORA, N.D. — The wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park are at risk of being removed as part of the park's Livestock Management Plan. The park is currently in the beginning stages of this process and is considering three alternatives, including one that would eliminate the herd entirely. A public comment period is currently open through January 31, 2023, and advocacy efforts are underway to save this iconic herd

In 1971, the United States Congress passed the Wild Horse and Burro Act, which protected wild horses on public lands. After much debate and litigation, the National Park Service gained the right to manage wild horses on their own lands. This means that wild horses on National Park Service lands are not protected under the Wild Horse and Burro Act.

In April 2022, Theodore Roosevelt National Park initiated its "Livestock Management Plan," which includes the management of wild horses in the South Unit and longhorn cattle in the North Unit. In December 2022, the park presented three different analyses that propose either eliminating the horse herd entirely or reducing it from 185 to 35-60 horses. The park is in the early stages of its "Livestock Management Plan," which is expected to take at least one year to complete.

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Remington, a wild horse at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, rears up on its hind legs amidst the breathtaking landscape of the park.
Photo by Chris Kman / For The Dickinson Press

To help save the wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, people can attend the park's virtual public scoping meeting on January 12, 2023. The meeting will be held on the Microsoft Teams platform at 6 p.m. MST and information on how to join can be found on the park's Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website at //parkplanning.nps.gov/LP.

Participating in the public comment period, which is open through January 31, 2023, is another important step in helping to save the wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. During this period, people can submit comments with alternatives for the park to consider as it moves forward with its Environmental Analysis. The park is currently considering three alternatives: Alternative A: No Action Alternative: Continued herd management under the 1978 EA and 1970 Management Plan; Alternative B: Action Alternative: Expedited Reduction of Herds to No Livestock; and Alternative C: Proposed Action: Phased Reduction of Herds to No Livestock.

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Maverick and his band rest near a butte, at one with the scenic landscape of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Photo by Chris Kman / For The Dickinson Press

However, the park is open to considering different alternatives, and factual comments with as much detail and supporting documentation as possible will be most helpful in advocating for the wild horses.

Comments and supporting documentation can be submitted online through the park's Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/LP or in writing to:

Superintendent
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
PO Box 7
Medora, ND 58645

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Sienna, a young foal, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Photo by Chris Kman / For The Dickinson Press

According to Theodore Roosevelt National Park's report on the last public engagement meeting, during the last public comment period in April, a total of 1774 people responded, including comments from all 50 states and 58 international comments. Of these, 136 came from North Dakota. After the current public comment period ends on January 31, 2023, the park will begin its Environmental Assessment (EA) and decide which alternatives to consider. The park has stated that it prefers to eliminate the herd completely, but if you disagree with this decision, it is important to let the park know by the deadline.

Another option for advocating for the wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park is to contact North Dakota House and Senate representatives. These elected officials have the ability to introduce legislation requesting that the park leave the wild horses in the park. The roster for ND House and Senate legislators, along with their contact information, can be found at https://www.ndlegis.gov/contact-my-legislators . When communicating with representatives, it is advisable to keep the letters concise, respectful, and focused.

Regardless of where those interested in the ongoing situation at the park live within the state, it may be helpful to contact both the House and Senate members of the state's Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The members of this committee in the Senate can be found at ndlegis.gov/assembly/67-2021/committees/senate/energy-and-natural-resources, while the members in the House can be found at ndlegis.gov/assembly/67-2021/committees/house/energy-and-natural-resources. When writing to these representatives, it is advisable to keep the letters concise, respectful, and focused on the request for legislation that would allow the wild horses to remain in the park at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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Bokel and Kat, two wild horses surrounded by the scenic landscape of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Photo by Chris Kman / For The Dickinson Press

The United States Senate also has a committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which includes the Subcommittee on National Parks. There are ten senators on this subcommittee, including North Dakota's own Senator John Hoeven. You can ask Senator Hoeven to advocate for keeping the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by emailing his legislative director, Dan Auger, at his email address at Daniel_auger@hoeven.senate.gov, or one of his staffers, Tony Eberhard, at their email address at tony_eberhard@hoeven.senate.gov.

It may also be helpful to ask Governor Burgum to advocate for allowing the wild horses to remain in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Governor Burgum has the power to use the weight of his office to request that the park make this decision. To ask for the governor's help, you can send an email to his Communications Director, Mike Nowatzki, at mnowatzki@nd.gov.

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There is a limited amount of time to gather support from elected officials in North Dakota to keep the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. One state legislator has stated that drafting a resolution on this issue is the easy part, and finding support from state and federal officials will require a concerted effort. Many state legislators are paying attention to public letters to the editor and other comments on this issue, so it is important to make sure they hear directly from you. Make sure to use the available channels, such as the public comment period, to express your views and advocate for the wild horses.

This is not the first time that the park has attempted to eliminate the wild horses. A similar effort was made in the 1970s, but it was ultimately unsuccessful due to public outcry. In order to save the state's only herd of wild horses, it will be necessary for everyone to use their voices, send emails, attend meetings, and submit comments to advocate for these animals. If the park is allowed to remove the wild horses as planned, the state will lose a natural treasure that cannot be regained.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance."

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Quinn and Gidget are two of a herd of wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. They face risk of removal under the park's Livestock Management Plan.
Photo by Chris Kman / For The Dickinson Press

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