Forest Service to remove ‘feral’ horses from Alpine to protect endangered species

Wild horses in parts of eastern Arizona are going to be rounded up and placed in an auction.
Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 5:50 PM MST
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ALPINE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – The US Forest Services will be collecting ‘feral’ horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Alpine starting Mar. 21st. The removal of the horses comes after the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group based out of Tucson, filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service for violating the Endangered Species Act. The group claims the Forest Service fails to control feral animals’ damage to the meadows and streams, which are the New Mexico Jumping Mouse’s federally protected habitat.

“Since the early 2000s, feral horses have been causing severe damage to the habitat of threatened and endangered species in an area including the Chiricahua leopard frog, narrow-headed garter snake, loach minnow, and Apache trout, and New Mexico meadow jumping mouse - which is nearing extinction. There are indirect effects on habitats of Three Forks spring snail and Mexican spotted owl. Collection of these feral horses is an ongoing process and necessary for responsible forest management for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests,” said Jeffrey Todd, the spokesperson for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (ASNF).

The Center for Biological Diversity says the jumping mouse relies heavily on the tall grass and streams in the Alpine area, which they claim unauthorized livestock are damaging.

“What is really the damage the horses are doing? Because when you have elk and deer and cattle and they’re all kind of using the same area, you can’t really say it’s the horses doing the damage,” said Simone Netherlands, an Arizona wild horse advocate. Netherlands says she and other horse advocates were notified two days ago of the roundup and wish they had more notice. “We think it’s really sad we’re only getting seven days to try to save these horses. That’s not enough time for the public to give their input.”

The Forest Service says they have a contract for passive baiting and trapping of unauthorized feral horses, which they say is the least dangerous process for collecting them. Robin Silver, who is with the Center for Biological Diversity, says they want all of the feral horses out of that habitat, but the Forest Services doesn’t know when they will all be collected.

“The ASNF is starting with up to 20 heads. There are approximately 400 head of unauthorized feral horses. We are working closely with the local community, grassroots collaborative, multiple horse rescues, permittees, and Arizona horse advocates to find creative solutions,” Todd said.

Silver says they do not want to harm the horses by any means, and they’ve spent the last three years trying to get horse activists to help remove the horses. Netherlands says they’ve been invited to the public auctions but have a hard time outbidding “kill buyers.”

“The fact is that the Forest Service will bring them to the Holbrook auction; now they cannot guarantee at that auction they won’t be purchased by kill buyers,” Netherlands said. “There’s no way for them to guarantee that these horses are not going to end up on a dinner plate abroad,” Netherlands said her main goal is to work with the Forest Service and conservation groups to make sure the horses are treated humanely and not sent out for slaughter. “If there really is 400, it would be reasonable to leave about 200 and treat them with humane fertility control, so the herd doesn’t grow too large, and it doesn’t put too much pressure on the environment.”

Netherlands said she and other horse advocates are heading up to Alpine on Friday to discuss options with the Forest Service.

“We would really like the Forest Service to postpone this action of bait trapping these wild horses until they can guarantee these Arizona wild horses will not end up in slaughter,” Netherlands said. “We just want all Arizona wild horses treated humanely, and that’s literally all we ask.”