By Birgit Pruess
Guest editorial: If you are a taxpayer, these are your horses.
If you are one of many fans of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) horses, here is an update on the current situation. TRNP has released 94 pages of environmental assessment on September 25, which is now followed by a month of comment collection. You can see both the assessment document and the link to the comments on their website: https://tinyurl.com/39mmram4
In summary, there are now three options for livestock management, which refers to horses in the South Unit and nine longhorn steers (non-reproductive) in the North Unit.
Option A is no action, meaning management will keep following the 1978 environmental assessment, which recommended 35 to 60 horses and up to 12 longhorns.
There are currently just under 200 horses in the south unit. The minimum number to keep a herd genetically viable is estimated at around 150 animals.
Option B is expedited reduction of both herds to zero.
Option C is phased reduction to zero. This option would involve chemically or surgically sterilizing horses who then get to live their lives out in the park. This would leave some number of horses in the park for an estimated 10 years.
Aside from the fact that none of these options are in any way acceptable to the horse fans and their horses (yes, if you are a taxpayer, these are your horses), the park is also not very honest and forward with information. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process requests that all documents mentioned in the environmental assessment are to be publicly available. Yet they had to be requested. Furthermore, one of the documents “disappeared” a few days later.
Then, there was a public meeting on October 10. An unbiased research thesis out of NDSU, admittedly a while ago, was dismissed as ‘just research’, while the biased NEPA research by park personnel was deemed more trustworthy. As a scientist, I was insulted. The allusion to “destroying” an animal does not give me confidence in the proposed removal process, which involves helicopter roundups with the possibility of injuries.
They are live animals who have lived on the lands for a long time. They were already there when the fence was built in 1949. In contrast, bison and elk had to be introduced.
Talk about ‘native,’ they live a wild and beautiful life, have family and loyalty to their family members. They have curiosity, for example in humans and watch us the same way we watch them.
Their family dynamics are intriguing and very dynamic. When you visit the park, you can see anything from a foal just born to stallions fighting. When my sister and I had just looked at a bunch of hoof prints around some hoo-doo, we took this photo; and when I looked up the horses came galloping around the corner of the street. We had to hurry to get the five yards back to the car and out of their way when they thundered by with flying manes and a young foal in tow.
I personally think that TRNP will have fewer visitors without the horses, which the library may not be able to make up for. Lots of us come for the horses, not to see the Little Missouri River, as claimed by TNRP personnel in an earlier meeting. I can take a look at the Red River right away here in Fargo and at bison in Jamestown.
Among the people and organizations/institutions who support the horses and longhorns are all of our 147 state legislators, who expressed their support in a unanimous resolution in the spring session. How often do we get to watch these people agree over anything? They did agree over this.
The governor offered support in the form of resources, and this support was renewed after the release of the environmental assessment. All three of our federal representatives expressed support, and so did the five tribal nations, the Medora Foundation, the City of Medora, 500 constituents who testified on the state resolution in the spring session, and over 100,000 horse fans across the world who are either part of one of the major advocacy groups or acting on their own behalf.
I highly encourage TRNP to keep a number of horses in the park that facilitates their genetic survival.
If you, the reader of this editorial, want to get involved, a good time is right now. Go to this web link and turn in your comments by October 25, 2023. https://tinyurl.com/39mmram4
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