An extensive investigation into the wild horses of a US National Forest in eastern Arizona has been published in a special issue of Cheiron, a scientific journal focusing on horse-related history.
The research by wildlife ecologist Craig Downer outlines the issues facing the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNF) wild Heber horses and their legal habitat in the Mogollon Rim region.
In his in-depth study, which includes dozen of images, Downer notes that logging of ponderosa pines, cattle grazing and trophy elk, deer and other game hunting “seem to be the principal management goals of the Black Mountain Ranger District (BMRD) and the entire ASNF, while wild horse conservation is given minor priority”, Downer said.
Given the high disturbance of the area, Downer said it was surprising that the ecosystem is functioning as well as his research indicates. “The impacts of vehicles and roads, fences to accommodate the intensive trampling and grazing by cattle, as well as frequent vehicle entries – all combine to disrupt this ecosystem.
“These horses are facing near total elimination, and I think it is of paramount importance that we call attention to the grievous injustice that is in the works in hopes of stopping it,” Downer said.
Given the significant attention this herd and its habitat have received and the moderate growth it has demonstrated over several decades, Downer suggests that the Secretary of Agriculture declare the group of horses as a Study Herd under Section 10 of the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFHBA).
Downer is a wildlife president of the non-profit Andean Tapir Fund / Wild Horse and Burro Fund based in Minden, Nevada. He has conducted pioneer telemetric studies of the Endangered Mountain/Andean Tapir, written and published peer-reviewed articles, chapters and reports on this species and given presentations at professional and popular conferences (both English and Spanish) as an IUCN SSC Tapir Specialist Group member. A fourth-generation Nevadan, he grew up in western Nevada, and eastern California riding his horse Poco and has written books, including The Wild Horse Conspiracy, articles and given numerous talks concerning North America’s wild horse and burro herds and habitats.
The issue also includes a response from Christine Reed, an emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a wild horse photographer who has studied wild horses in the US and the Netherlands.
Reed describes the Heber mustang case as a “microcosm of a controversy throughout the American West involving wild horse advocates, livestock ranchers, and federal government agencies with jurisdiction over wild horse territories and herd management areas”. She has written several articles on wild horse protection policies published in the International Journal of Public Administration, Environmental Values, Society & Animals, and Ethics & Environment. Reed is the author of Saving the Pryor Mountain Mustang: A Legacy of Local and Federal Cooperation.
Cheiron editor Anastasija Ropa notes that the situation with the Heber horses parallels earlier history. “Throughout history, those equids that evaded domestication have been either pushed away from the lands used by humans or hunted to extinction. In the rare instances when ‘wild horses’ do appear in early records, they appear as the target of hunters unless these are free-roaming herds that are bred in the wild. In the USA, however, wild horses and burros are legally protected.”
Heber Wild Horses of Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests with 40 Ecological Transect Results and Herd Description. Craig C Downer.
Cheiron: The International Journal of Equine and Equestrian History, Vol. 2, Issue 2/2022. 10.22618/TP.Cheiron.20222.2.132001
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