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Fate of “Heber Wild Horses” Looms

The fate of free-roaming horses on Arizona public lands could be decided with the release of two government studies expected soon. Credit: U.S. Forest Service.
The fate of free-roaming horses on Arizona public lands could be decided with the release of two government studies expected soon. Credit: U.S. Forest Service.
August 3, 2015

SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. - Some refer to them as "wild horses" and others as "unauthorized livestock" but one thing is certain, the fate of the free-roaming horses referred to as "The Heber Horses" could be decided soon.

The U.S. Forest Service has two studies in progress regarding how to manage the herd of more than 200 horses that roam freely in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

This has advocates for the wild horses such as Michele Anderson very concerned. She maintains a Heber Horses Facebook page and says the animals should be protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act of 1971, but the Forest Service study could show otherwise.

"This is no exaggeration to say that it is a life-or-death situation for these horses," says Anderson. "That's why I'm advocating for them, I don't want them to be rounded up to go to auction and to be slaughtered and I don't want them taken out of the forest."

According to the Forest Service, the studies and proposed action plans to determine whether the free-roaming horses are descendants of the Heber Wild Horses, which would give them protected status or strays that could be removed, should be completed by the end of this month at which time the public will be able to weigh in before the plan is implemented.

Pamela Baltimore is the public-affairs officer for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. She says it's her agency's job to manage the land as well as the horse population. While the general public and people who visit the forest may enjoy the beauty of the horses, not everyone is so enthusiastic about their presence primarily the ranchers who lease parcels of public land for their businesses.

"A lot of area ranchers feel a lot of the horses that are going back and forth, whether summer, winter, that they're utilizing a lot of what they would use for forage for their animals," says Baltimore.

This has been an issue for ranchers regarding wild horses in other states as well ,such as Utah and Wyoming.

Advocates for the horses hope that if the Forest Service decides the animals must be removed, that they will not be sold at auctions where they could be bought only to be sold and slaughtered in Canada or Mexico, but rather allow rescue groups and individuals to come forward to save them.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - AZ