TRNP signs agreement for horses: Officials say new roundup method less stressful
Known as one of the iconic symbols of the west, wild horses have inhabited the plains of North Dakota for hundreds of years. Today, in an attempt to manage and preserve populations, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the North Dakota Badlands H...
Known as one of the iconic symbols of the west, wild horses have inhabited the plains of North Dakota for hundreds of years.
Today, in an attempt to manage and preserve populations, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the North Dakota Badlands Horse Registry (NDBH) have signed a partnership agreement to facilitate the transfer of excess feral horses from the park to private owners.
Blake McCann, a biologist for the park, said the wild horses are an important cultural resource for the area and are enjoyed by tourists.
However, populations have to be managed to avoid overgrazing and resource damage.
To do this, park staff herds feral horses by helicopter every four to five years, pulling out around one hundred of them to keep populations at a sustainable level.
The excess animals are then transported to auction shows and later sold to private owners.
However, with the recently signed agreement between the park and NDBH, this process will change.
McCann said the park plans to phase away from herding horses by helicopter and moving towards gentler herding techniques.
He said the large-scale roundup method provides stress for horses that they would like to eliminate.
Bill Whitworth, chief of resource management for the park, said park officials are trying not to use any physical force on the animals, and rather moving toward “using more natural tendencies.”
He said this includes moving the horses into controlled columns through the application of light pressure and nudging horses into the desired direction.
The park plans to administer this gentler approach more frequently, which means instead of pulling 100 horses from the land at one time, they will take 30 to 40 every year instead.
Once horses are taken away from the herd, NDBH will use their resources to place the animals with private owners.
Due to the horses bloodlines, these animals are considered desirable, Whitworth said.
“They have been around for a long time and are well adapted to the area,” he said.
People who have purchased these horses in the past have been pleased, he added.
“They are rugged and special animals,” he said.
And while park officials are unsure of the exact cost and benefits the new technique will offer, Whitworth suspects it will be financially beneficial for the park.
Regardless of costs, he said he is confident the new strategy will put less stress on the historic animals.
Abby Kessler is a reporter for The Dickinson Press. Contact her at (701) 456-1208