Forest Officials Investigating String of Wild Horse Killings on Federal Land

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Kevin Russ

In a gruesome and heinous attack, someone recently shot and killed 25 wild horses in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Since the monstrous event took place, it’s devastated a community and outraged animal rights advocates. It’s also reignited a long-standing debate over what’s best for the park’s horses.

“It’s absolutely horrendous for us to find these animals that have been shot,” said Simone Netherlands. She is the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group President and Co-Founder.

For Netherlands, these horses aren’t just majestic creature animals. They’re also an integral piece of the Apache-Sitgreaves’ history.

“What’s lacking here is protection for these horses,” she said. “And we are going to work very hard to see if there any legislators here in Arizona that want to give these horses their rightful protections.”

In a press release, an Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest spokesperson said that forest representatives are actively working with other groups to investigate the killing.

Going after who’s responsible for this malicious act is something Center for Biological Diversity co-founder Robin Silver fully intends to do. “Those are horrific,” he said. “There’s no excuse for that. And they shouldn’t be happening.”

Silver adds that it’s essential that these dead animals don’t get in the way of the ongoing removal process of the wild horses.

“They’ve been severely damaging the upper-elevation meadows and streams within the Black River watershed. And again, unfortunately, that’s causing a local extinction,” he said about the consequences of having the horses in the park.

In addition, Silver’s not just referring to permanent damage to forest lands. He’s also worried about the effect the horses have on endangered species such as the New Mexico Jumping Mouse.

Debate over wild horses reopens following horrific killings

However, on the other side of the argument, Netherlands argues it’s not the wild horses, but cattle, that are responsible for the majority of the damage.

“Why didn’t they reduce the cattle grazing in the same area?” she pondered. “Instead, they scapegoated the wild horses and they blamed them for all of the environmental damage.”

As Netherlands fights for justice for the slain horses, she’s concerned about more of the horses dying as well as their long-term future. “If we don’t find a legislator willing to support these horses, then there will not be any left.”

Wild horses are federally protected. In addition, killing one of the creatures on public land is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

Sadly, it has been challenging to enforce in the 51 years since the law passed. Most killings occur in remote areas and away from the public. Sadly, prosecutions happen, but they rarely render much jail time.