Heber Wild Horse Territory

Phoenix, AZ—We have learned that the US Forest Service plans to remove 400 wild Arizona horses from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Eastern Arizona and sell them at auction in Sun Valley, near Holbrook, Ariz. Most or all of the 400 horses, including mares and foals, will go to slaughter. The agency intends to accept a final bid on gathering these horses from their territory no later than Sept. 8, 2005. Its officials will then authorize the contractor to begin rounding up or trapping the horses as soon as 10 days after the contract is awarded.

The horses currently live in the protected Heber Wild Horse Territory, a 14,000-acre habitat within the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest that was designated under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Documents provided to In Defense of Animals (IDA) by the Forest Service claim the agency removed the last horses from the Heber Territory in 1993 and that all 400 horses it currently plans to capture are "trespass" horses who came from the Apache reservation during the Rodeo-Chediski fire in summer 2002.

The Forest Service asserts that because the horses are not native, it may impound and sell them at auction. The agency says it is exempt from the requirements of overseeing an Environmental Impact Study, issuing a decision memo and submitting the removal plan for public comment. Yet based upon our investigation to date, most are unbranded free-roaming horses in a protected territory—and therefore covered under the 1971 law.

In a letter to IDA, a Forest Service official wrote that the horses are being removed because they interfere with efforts to reestablish vegetation in the area damaged by the Rodeo-Chediski fire. However, the same letter indicated tall grasses from the reseeding project had lured the horses, and local residents report the grasses have never before been so tall and lush. We suspect the real motivation for the horses' removal originates from a June 2005 report from the Senate Appropriations Committee to Congress, instructing Arizona and other western states to use additional public land for grazing contracts.

We have retained an attorney and have asked the Forest Service to stop the removal of the horses—or we will seek court intervention.