Approximately a year ago, I wrote the commentary below on the proposal to remove feral horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. A new editorial in the Washington Post was published today arguing that these domestic animals, now feral, should be permitted to dwell in a national park dedicated to protecting and enhancing the landscape for native species.

As much as horse advocates may wish to ignore the science of the origins of these horses (they are descendants of domesticated animals), the science is clear. These feral horses have no place in our national park system for reasons I have articulated below.

There are several things that one must consider. First, the mission of the NPS is to promote native species.

The second comment I need to make because many horse advocates who have previously written their responses to my column assume I am ignorant of domestic livestock impacts on public lands. I have been seeking to remove domestic animals from the public lands for nearly 50 years.

Before anyone lectures me on the damage done by domestic cows and sheep, you should google my name and public lands grazing or livestock damage, and other searches. I have probably written and published more articles, commentaries and LTE on the damage done by domestic livestock than anyone I know. I have written book chapters, scientific papers, and even entire books on the topic of livestock damage, including Welfare Ranching–the subsidized destruction of the American West. I don’t need lectures from anyone about how domestic livestock are a blight on our public lands.

The NPS should follow its mandate to manage for native species and gradually eliminate these horses. The NPS has said horse lovers can adopt these animals. Horse lovers should step up and provide a home for these animals on private lands where they belong.

The wild beauty of the Little Missouri badlands within Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. Photo George Wuerthner 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) has proposed eliminating feral horses and domestic livestock from the Park. Unlike the fiasco at Point Reyes National Seashore, where the NPS appears to support maintaining domestic livestock within the park unit, the staff at TRNP recommends reducing the number of domestic animals to zero. Management of feral horses and domestic cattle across the West has been contentious for decades.

TRNP has a small herd of domestic cattle which it plans to eliminate. Photo George Wuerthner

Opposition to the proposal comes from the Governor Burgum of North Dakota, the state legislature, and the United Tribes of North Dakota. Burgum, speaking on behalf of the hospitality industry, suggests that horses and cattle are a draw for tourists and are part of the ranching “heritage” of the state.

The state legislature is also considering a resolution that would oppose the removal of livestock from the Park. But, of course, this would only be advisory since federal authority trumps state laws.

The United Tribes of North Dakota consider feral horses as “sacred” and oppose their removal from TRNP. Photo George Wuerthner

The tribes, for their part, argue that horses are “sacred” and part of their cultural heritage.

New genetic testing demonstrates that the horses in TRNP underwent genetic bottlenecks and founder effects, but are related to the domestic horses of Europe and Asia, which supports the historical evidence they are the result of European introduction.

Although the Park described the horses for decades as “wild horses” or “feral horses,” park officials recently classified them as livestock and maintain they have “no basis” to keep livestock in the Park under laws and regulations.

Park officials, including Angie Richman, the park superintendent, have said the Park’s enabling legislation and other federal laws don’t allow them to keep livestock in the Park. The Park’s mission, Richman has said, is to preserve native species and ecosystems.

 

 TRNP’s mission is to manage for prevation of natural values and biodivesity. Tiger swallowtail on thistle Theodore Roosevelt NP ND.  Photo George Wuerthner

The cattle management within the Park relies on a 1970s plan, while the feral horse plan was adopted in 1978. The 1978 plan called for 35-60 horses. Today there are more than 200, well above the original plan.

The Park has tried to limit the number of horses through periodic roundups and even birth control. But the horses, say the NPS,  are “efficient breeders.”

The NPS says that based on new science, and ecological insights, the removal of horses and domestic cattle should be the priority of park management.

A new cattle borne disease poses a risk to the park bison herd. Photo George Wuerthner 

A further issue is that TRNP is home to bison, and in 2022 a bacterial disease of cattle, Mycoplasma bovis, was discovered in the Park. Mycoplasma bovis poses a threat to the Park’s bison.

Three preliminary alternatives are under consideration by the NPS. Alternative A (No Action Alternative: continued herd management under the 1978 EA and 1970 Management Plan), Alternative B (Action Alternative: expedited reduction of herds to no livestock), and Alternative C (Proposed Action Alternative: phased reduction of herds to no livestock).

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Photo George Wuerthner 

The expedited alternative would eliminate all horses and cattle within two years. Part of the reason for the quick removal of livestock is the risk of disease transfer they pose to the park’s bison herds.

However, since releasing a plan draft, feral horse and cattle advocates have rallied to flood the NPS with letters denouncing the move.

HISTORY OF THEODORE ROOVELT NATIONAL PARK

Teddy Roosvelt cabin Theodore Roosevelt NP ND. Photo George Wuerthner

Theodore Roosevelt first came to ranch among the beautiful badlands along the Little Missouri River in  North Dakota in 1884 after his mother died from typhoid fever and within hours his wife, Alice, also died from kidney disease.

Roosevelt was distraught; some say, he went west seeking solace over the loss of his family.

Prairie flowers in Theordore Roosevelt National Park. Photo George Wuerthner 

He established two ranches—the Maltese Cross Ranch near Medora and the Elkhorn some 35 miles north of Medora. After the devastating winter of 1886-87 that killed tens of thousands of cattle on the northern plains, Roosevelt decided to get out of the ranching business and focus on politics. He sold his last interests in the Elkhorn Ranch in 1898.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was first proposed in 1919 shortly after TR died to honor the former President. However, it went nowhere until Franklin Roosevelt proposed in 1942 to add the area to the national park system.

In 1945 North Dakota Congressman William Lemke introduced a bill for a Little Missouri Badlands. But, unfortunately, it failed to get President Truman’s signature. So Lemke tried again in 1947 and got a Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park managed mainly as a historical site.

Feral horses were present when the memorial Park was established in 1947.

The NPS mission is to preserve the natural environment. Little Missouri River, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND. Photo George Wuerthner 

In 1978, the area was upgraded to full national park status, and the NPS began to manage the site more for its natural values. The presence of exotic feral horses has never met the overriding principle of managing native species.

DO FERAL HORSES BELONG IN A NATIONAL PARK?

National Park Historian Robert Utley suggested that the horses have historical value and may be descendants of horses once bred by Sitting Bull and other native people.

A feral horse grazes in the Pryor Mountains of Montana. Photo George Wuerthner

Of course, all horses are descendants of domestic livestock, whether ridden by Roosevelt or Sitting Bull.

Feral horses are found on other national park units, such as Assateague Island National Seashore. And domestic cattle and horses are currently the subject of a controversial plan to maintain private farms within Point Reyes National Park. In addition, there are about 300,000 feral horses on the Bureau of Land Management and National Forest lands and state, private and tribal lands across the West.

Many scientists believe feral horses pose a threat to native ecosystem, plants and wildlife. However, feral horse advocates believe that domestic livestock pose a greater threat to the West’s ecosystems.

However, the national park service has a different mandate than these other federal land management agencies. As noted by the TRNP Superintendent, the Park Service’s mission is to preserve native species and ecosystems.

FERAL HORSES RELICTS OF SPANISH COLONIZATION

The cultural appropriation of the horse by Native Americans provided greater mobility, leading to more warfare, and the adoption of the bison hunting culture of the Great Plains. Photo George Wuerthner 

Horses are not native to North America and were introduced by the Spanish in 1519. Cultural appropriation by the tribes began in the 1600s. Horses reached tribes in the northern plains by 1750-1780, setting the era of mobile bison hunting tradition in motion. The adoption of the horse by Native Americans had both positive and negative influences for them. It also had severe consequences for bison herds, and tribal hunting for the hide trade may have contributed to the demise of the once vast bison herds.

Map showing the movement of horses northward from the Southwest, reaching the area around TRNP about 1750. 

This debate gets to the heart of the matter. Do we need to “preserve” domestic animals in our national parks?

Approximately 300,000 feral horses roam the West, do we need to have them in our national parks as well? Photo George Wuerthner 

Given that there are hundreds of thousands of feral horses, not to mention about 95 million domestic cattle in the United States, there is no need to keep either cattle or horses in any national park unit.

Kids view on prairie dog town Theodore Roosevelt NP ND. The NPS goal is to preserve native wildlife like bison and prairie dogs. Photo George Wuerthner 

I commend Superintendent Richman and the TRNP staff for having the courage to recommend removal of domestic animals from the park.

However, with the pressure exerted on the TRNP from North Dakota politicians, wild horse advocates, and the United Tribes of North Dakota who suggest feral horses are “sacred” animals,  I suspect the NPS will bow to the political influence.

TRNP livestock management plan will be open for public comment later this spring and summer when it comes out with a finalized proposal.

 
About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

84 Responses to Revisiting Feral Horses at Theodore Roosevelt NP

  1. William A Boyd says:

    300,ooo! Egads.

    • Tim Crowell says:

      vs 95,000,000+ livestock!!

      REALLY EEEE GADS!!!

      BLM is the most inept, mismanaged, gross negligent federal agency perhaps of all time!

      • Kathleen Hayden says:

        NPS refuse all Americans their heritage RESOURCE of wild equids in Resource Management Plans. “ In structure and purpose, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is nothing more than a land-use regulation enacted by Congress to ensure the survival of a particular species of wildlife noting that wild horses and burros are no less “wild” animals than are the grizzly bears that roam our national parks and forests ((Mountain States v. Hodel)

        • Ted Chu says:

          Nothing in the Wild Horse and Burro Act requires them to be allowed on all public land and the act allows for their control even by lethal means if necessary. I want all livestock, both managed and feral, removed or greatly reduced on our fragile arid public lands in favor of native species and ecosystem health and recovery.

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      With the BLM’s current 10 Year Plan (Path Forward?) and the thousands of Wild Horses every year that have already been rounded up – its really doubtful there ARE 300,000 Wild Horses still free. But there sure are all those millions of COWS!
      Check out those roundups to see how this agency & Forest Service treat our (american) Wild Horses. Dont take my word for it.

      • Ted Chu says:

        You are offering a two wrongs makes a right argument. The cows and the horses both need to go in favor of native species and ecosystem health and recovery.

  2. Heidi Hall says:

    I was married to a man who claimed Jackson Brown’s music and group sex were “sacred”. The word no longer has a meaning.

  3. Mary says:

    I support removal of domestic animals from the park, including horses and cows.

    We’ll always have domestic animals, but wildlife cannot thrive– or even, sometimes, survive– with disease, genetic competition, habitat use and other problems domestic animals present.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      George’s argument is flawed from the beginning. Humans caused native horses to become extinct in North America. Replacing them with feral horses is ecologically superior to just leaving a gap of no horses where they used to be native. Furthermore, dogs are not wolves, where as feral horses are biologically the same as wild horses.

      I think if we all could, we’d turn back the clock and prevent all the ecological and environmental harms that humans have done, in this case causing the extinction of native North American horses. But since that’s not possible, the next best thing is to replace the wild horses with feral ones, which are virtually identical. The extinction of North American horses was not natural, it was caused by humans. Therefore, we should try to mitigate it as best we can, and reintroducing horses to the American west is the best we can.

      • Ted Chu says:

        There is only speculation that humans caused the horse to become extinct in north America and why not in Asia – same humans, same horses. There is equally logical theory that climate change driven vegetation changes caused their extinction along with a large number of their cohort species. It is believe pronghorn evolved their speed to escape the north American cheetah now extinct. Is it “the next best thing” to replace cheetah today and would they then be a native species? There is well documented evidence that feral horses cause severe ecological damage in our drier climate and in places with there are no other livestock.I’m realistic enough to know feral horses are here to stay in many areas but they shouldn’t be in national parks legally designated to maintain native species and ecological processes.

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          First, it’s not just “speculation,” it’s a legitimate theory, and the one that makes the most sense. Humans cause extinctions wherever they go, starting with when they began leaving Africa 60-90,000 years ago. Humans were already in Asia when the North American horses migrated there — from HERE, BTW — which would explain why Asians didn’t cause them to become extinct, or extirpated from Asia. It seems that when humans newly arrive somewhere, they kill everything in sight until they settle down, but apparently they don’t react the same way to newly arrived species.

          As to the arid west, this is where horses evolved. Therefore, the ecosystem here evolved with horses, so their grazing is not “ecological damage” unless the horses’ range is unnaturally limited by humans causing them to overgraze; it’s the horses’ natural interaction with the ecosystem. You are illegitimately conflating horses with cattle and domestic sheep, the latter not being naturally evolved animals and thus not native here nor anywhere else.

          To be clear, while I love horses, I fully support maintaining a sufficient number of their native predators to keep their population in ecological balance, both in this park and everywhere else where they exist. What I don’t at all support is targeting them for removal or anything else negative, as they ARE native to the western U.S. If you want to focus on National Parks, you and George should focus your attention on Pt. Reyes National Seashore in California, where we’ve been trying to remove CATTLE for years, and where the cattle are causing immense damage and harm to both the native ecosystem and to native animals. Native elk are being killed here to support the damn cattle! Focusing on horses, which are native to North America, seems badly misplaced to say the least.

          • Ted Chu says:

            While the “theory” that humans caused the extinction of horses in N. America “makes sense” to you it doesn’t to everyone and I know of no scientific proof of it. These extra large horses were not native to N. America and the horses that were here lived in a different environment. Native predators, even where they are fully protected, have not been shown to be able to control horse populations. You correctly claim that the cattle we are familiar with were not native anywhere else, at least in their current form, but the same can be said for the mix and match feral domestic horses you defend. You seem to argue that because there are problems with cows in many places, Point Reyes as one example, that excuses or justifies damage by other forces in other places. (BTW I believe Wuerthner has written about Point Reyes.)

            • Jeff Hoffman says:

              That’s simply not true. A somewhat recent fossil of a large horse was found (I believe in Canada), and its DNA was identical to that of the modern horse. This kind of stuff is just nitpicking by people who have something against horses. I don’t support horses in areas where they weren’t native, but they were native to the west. Further more, it’s also not true that native predators don’t prey on modern horses. Another somewhat recent study shows that they do so.

              Also, I’m not making excuses for horses, because as native animals, they don’t need any. You’re just using sophistry to pervert my position. Cattle should be eliminated from the planet because they’re not natural animals, period. I support removing cattle from everywhere, not using them to excuse the presence of native horses.

              And yes, Pt. Reyes is a horror show, but the Park Service has agreed to remove a 3-mile fence that restricts native elk movement, and if they follow through (crossing our fingers), that could end the damn cattle in the park. But what’s next? Are you and George going to demand removal of the native elk because the ones in that park had to be reintroduced from somewhere else?

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Sorry Mary, this was meant to be a general comment, not a response to you.

  4. Maggie Frazier says:

    I agree with many of George’s posts BUT the horses are descendants of domestic stock that have been there for how many years? Whenever there is a push to get rid of Wild Horses – or in this case descendants of domestic ones – the term feral is always slapped on them – Usually by the livestock producers & their lobbies.
    The aftereffects from cattle or sheep are far different than from horses.
    A picture of Sheldon Wildlife Refuge referenced by the scientist George referenced. Sheldon was also grazed by livestock – cattle – not only the Wild Horses. Sheldon was also a source for hay by livestock producers. The damage done by cattle far outweighs any damage by Wild Horses.
    And after about 100 years in this Park – Calling them feral only means “an animal in a wild state”. So either word fits.

    • Ted Chu says:

      It’s not just livestock producers & their lobbies. Every biologist and scientist I know uses the term “feral” to describe the horses in question.

  5. Jeff Hoffman says:

    Considering that cattle and sheep exponentially outnumber feral/wild horses in the west, I don’t see why George is making an issue of horses. Not to mention that horses are native here, while cattle and domestic sheep are not. We all want non-native species removed, but the issue here is whether horses are native, and how much if any substantial difference there is between feral horses and the original native ones (none that I can see).

    • Alison James says:

      I don’t I do. There are plants and species that have made their home here, are not invasive and are doing well. If the entire world decided to get rid of its non-native flors and fauna. I do tend to wonder why Me Mcweurtner would want to insert his opinion? Too much press for the advocate perhaps? Upstarts.

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        If and ONLY IF non-natives don’t harm any of the natives, then there’s no problem with them. But if they displace natives, they’re causing ecological harm and they have to go. Cattle and domestic sheep do tremendous harm, so this is irrelevant here.

      • Kathleen Hayden says:

        Opposition to BLM laws and regulations regarding livestock/allotments may be an exercise in futility since the BIG AGENDA 21 is to remove all grazing animals from both private and public lands…first the horses, then the cattle. At this time the BLM ignores well established Congressional Acts and regulations including court cases and findings. Congress is both ignorant or negligent of the entire compilation of laws, regs and case law. Even if all livestock were removed from the landscapes, the agenda to remove wild horses would still accelerate. Changes to livestock allotments are a NEPA Resource Management Amendment. Funding source. During the 2019 comment period on proposed revisions to the federal regulations implementing the Pittman-Robertson Act, this is how the FWS responded to a suggestion that the definition of wildlife be expanded:
        “Comment 5: The Service should use funds under the Wildlife Restoration Act for the management of all species of wildlife. The Act was written for species that are imperiled and not just for those that are hunted.
        Response 5: State fish and wildlife agencies may use their Wildlife Restoration funds for species under their control that meet the definition of ‘‘wildlife’’ at 50 CFR 80.2. This definition limits eligible species to birds and mammals. The topic of defining wildlife will continue to be considered, and we appreciate this public input. https://wildlifeforall.us/resources/pittman-robertson-wildlife-restoration-act-explained/.
        The two key elements for defining an animal as a native species are where it originated and whether or not it coevolved with its habitat
        effectively sabotages the rule of law since the Magna Charta, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro ACT, the ESA, FLPMA, and numerous case findings/rulings.

        The 1976 Kleppe v, New Mexico Supreme Court established the wildlife status for Wild horse and burro herd, https://www.blm.gov/programs/planning-and-nepa/planning-101/special-planning-designations/acec. Should the US Fish and Wildlife Service be accountable for mandated PROTECTION (by operation of law) under the Endangered Species Act?

    • lou says:

      This is about horses in a national park. And one that has native bison too that are subject to a cattle disease. This sounds like a no-brainer to me. It is a small park and there are vast numbers of horses in the west outside the park.

      If the Indian tribes want these horses to remain, give them the horses.

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        Who says it’s only about horses in a National Park? Cattle ranchers? The biggest grazing problems BY FAR are caused by cattle, not horses. Even domestic sheep, which cattle outnumber by a lot, cause a lot more damage than horses and greatly outnumber them.
        Horses are not cattle. Are you claiming that these horses can pass the disease to the bison?
        Horses are native to the west also. I’ve read George’s argument and position on this, and while I totally agree with his work on cattle, I totally disagree with his position on feral horses. This seems to be driven by some horse hatred, because it’s totally illogical and makes no sense, unless you fail to acknowledge that horses are also native here.

        • Ted Chu says:

          You seem stuck on a two wrongs makes a right position. Just because cows are causing damage in one place does not justify letting another species add to that damage or damage another location.

          • Jeff Hoffman says:

            I’m not at all arguing that two wrongs make a right. I’m arguing that if you’re concerned about the horrific damage caused by non-native ungulates, your attention should be solely on cattle and domestic sheep. Horses are such a minor detail in comparison that focusing on them at all shows that you have something against them.

    • Ted Chu says:

      You seem to be making a two wrongs makes a right argument. Just because there are cows doesn’t justify adding horses to the grazing pressure on the land, or vice versa which is the argument livestock people use. Both species need to be greatly reduced on all public land and eliminated from national parks.

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. When you have a HUGE problem like cattle, you don’t obsess on horses, which are totally minor in comparison. Furthermore, as I wrote in another response to you here, horses are native to North America.

  6. Alison James says:

    Does he protesth too much methinks? Mr McWuertner forgot that horses were reintroduced in the 1500’s and that horses evolved here before the Pleistocene and spread to China, Russia and Europe over the Bering Strait since then.
    It’s strange, but the more BLM and it’s supporter’s like Mr. McWuertner, say the wild horses are not native, there is more pushback and scholarship acknowledging horses were here closer to two thousand years ago.
    Bison are also a reintroduced exotic species. Currently, there are more than half a million being farmed her. The species is not native either. Mr McWuerthner would know the subtle differences. Buffalo differ.
    Can the BLM be so sure that in the Indian civilization over the entire Nation there were no horses? We can’t say yes or no for sure. Commonsense would dictate yes, but for many people the jury is still out… for many the same for bison. BLM is not known for its commonsense, but it is for its bullying, which reminds me of this article.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      How are bison not native? Do you mean because their genes have been polluted with cattle genes from the ranchers interbreeding them? I think you’re in a minority of one saying that bison aren’t native here.

  7. Susan Rhem-Westhoff says:

    Someone who sees horses as purely livestock loses any credibility on this subject.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      That classification by NPS sounds like a political decision to me, not a scientific one. On exactly what ground or grounds are feral horses now classified as livestock?

  8. Wayne Tyson says:

    It would be refreshing to read some responses to the/all article(s) that quoted the relevant part of the article.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Why? We all get the point of the article and we all know George’s position on this issue. No one is making things up here or claiming that George advocated or said something that he didn’t.

  9. Wayne Tyson says:

    https://www.livescience.com/9589-surprising-history-america-wild-horses.html

    This excerpt is provided as a possible foundation for further rational discussion:

    “The last prehistoric North American horses died out between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, but by then Equus had spread to Asia, Europe, and Africa.

    “Animals that on paleontological grounds could be recognized as subspecies of the modern horse originated in North America between 1 million and 2 million years ago. When Linnaeus coined the species name, E. caballus, however, he only had the domesticated animal in mind. Its closest wild ancestor may have been the tarpan, often classified as E. ferus; there is no evidence, though, that the tarpan was a different species. In any case the domesticated horse probably did not arise at a single place and time, but was bred from several wild varieties by Eurasian herders.

    “In recent years, molecular biology has provided new tools for working out the relationships among species and subspecies of equids. For example, based on mutation rates for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) Ann Forstén, of the Zoological Institute at the University of Helsinki, has estimated that E. caballus originated approximately 1.7 million years ago in North America. More to the point is her analysis of E. lambei, the Yukon horse, which was the most recent Equus species in North America prior to the horse’s disappearance from the continent. Her examination of E. lambei mtDNA (preserved in the Alaskan permafrost) has revealed that the species is genetically equivalent to E. caballus. That conclusion has been further supported by Michael Hofreiter, of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who has found that the variation fell within that of modern horses.

    “These recent findings have an unexpected implication. It is well known that domesticated horses were introduced into North America beginning with the Spanish conquest, and that escaped horses subsequently spread throughout the American Great Plains. Customarily, such wild horses that survive today are designated “feral” and regarded as intrusive, exotic animals, unlike the native horses that died out at the end of the Pleistocene. But as E. caballus, they are not so alien after all. The fact that horses were domesticated before they were reintroduced matters little from a biological viewpoint. Indeed, domestication altered them little, as we can see by how quickly horses revert to ancient behavioral patterns in the wild.

    “Consider this parallel. To all intents and purposes, the Mongolian wild horse (E. przewalskii, or E. caballus przewalskii) disappeared from its habitat in Mongolia and northern China a hundred years ago. It survived only in zoos and reserves. That is not domestication in the classic sense, but it is captivity, with keepers providing food and veterinarians providing health care. Then surplus animals were released during the 1990s and now repopulate a portion of their native range in Mongolia and China. Are they a reintroduced native species or not? And how does their claim to endemism differ from that of E. caballus in North America, except for the length and degree of captivity?

    “The wild horse in the United States is generally labeled non-native by most federal and state agencies dealing with wildlife management, whose legal mandate is usually to protect native wildlife and prevent non-native species from having ecologically harmful effects. But the two key elements for defining an animal as a native species are where it originated and whether or not it coevolved with its habitat. E. caballus can lay claim to doing both in North America. So a good argument can be made that it, too, should enjoy protection as a form of native wildlife.”

    ‘The suspension of judgment is the highest exercise in intellectual discipline.’ –Raymond M. Gilmore

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Good post Wayne, I just have one bone to pick with it.

      Horses didn’t just die out in the Americas or Asia, they were killed off by humans, both directly, and indirectly by destruction of their natural habitat. THAT’s the reason for reintroducing them. If they’d become extinct or extirpated naturally because they couldn’t survive a naturally changing ecosystem or climate, then RIP, nice knowin’ ya. But any species unnaturally removed by humans should be reintroduced if possible.

      • Wayne Tyson says:

        Jeff: Got a reference? How did you come to such a certain conclusion?

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          Well sure, I can’t say that I can provide proof of that, but it’s one of the main theories for why horses became extinct in North America, and it makes the most sense to me. Humans cause extinctions whenever they newly arrive, just like they did everywhere when they began leaving Africa 60-90,000 years ago, so there’s no reason to believe they didn’t drive horses here extinct. I’m using some facts and theories, and trusting my gut on this one.

  10. Janelle Ghiorso says:

    George Wuerthner regurgitates the same old boring justifications of the park service in this article. It’s obvious that he doesn’t have the credentials or expertise to make claims about the genetics of the native wild horses in the park. Genetic research on this very herd proved that these horses are unique and show no Spanish markers, meaning that they did not originate from the Spanish conquistadors. Historically, the wild horses were captured by early ranchers and indigenous tribes in the badlands and some were domesticated while others escaped capture. Humans enjoy the claim that they were able to capture every single wild horse and break them into a domestic prison. I’m sure George embraces that notion as much as he does the park service’s rhetoric.
    The native wild horses ran wild within the boundaries of Theodore Roosevelt National Park before it was a park and before North Dakota was a state. They existed in the badlands before Theodore Roosevelt was born and centuries or even millions of years before George decided that they don’t belong. How long do these horses need to exist before the title of “feral” becomes moot, to George or the park service? How high is the bar? Those who are defending their existence are tired of the short sighted lack of respect for a native species that Americans should celebrate.
    George goes on to make claims that there are 300,000 wild horses in North America. He inflates the number by using BLM claims (also estimated inflations) and includes all the horses on tribal lands, which shouldn’t be included in the first place. I challenge George to prove it! I wonder if George is aware of or asked the park personnel about the genetics of the reintroduced bison in the park? They are genetically related to the cattle that he thinks don’t belong in the park. True Buffalo have been extinct for centuries and those that survive today are descended from an original 14 crossbred with cattle. Wild horses don’t spread disease to bison, by the way George and haven’t displaced wildlife or damaged the park, according to the NPS. Your claims are not true.The genetic studies on the wild horses at the park, on the other hand, showed no domestic “breeds” common to this country and proved a unique herd. That should be preserved, not destroyed as self serving advocates for destruction so wish.
    This article is as misinformed and misleading as the National Park Service’s plan. The plan should be sent to the shredder and the public should be heard. The National Park System was created for us after all and we want to see the last remaining native wild horses in the park when we visit.

    • Wayne Tyson says:

      So you say, Janelle, but given the quality of your scholarship there must be some evidence you can cite in support of your statements.

      • Janelle Ghiorso says:

        I will provide some source links for you. I’m not sure which part of my comment you are referring to, as you didn’t specify.
        Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife; Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D. and Patricia M. Fazio, Ph.D. (Revised January 2010); https://awionline.org/content/wild-horses-native-north-american-wildlife

        The Wild Horse is Native to North America; By Ross MacPhee, Ph.D., Curator Division of Vertebrate Zoology. American Museum of Natural History; https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59f8c99ff09ca4e7c237d467/t/5a0f1c4a71c10bcd43005cc8/1510939723771/The+Wild+Horse+is+Native+to+North+America.pdf

        Raven J. Theodoropoulos D.I. Invasion biology. Critique of a pseudoscience. Ann Bot. 2004 Jul;94(1):196–7. doi: 10.1093/aob/mch128. PMCID: PMC4242384.

        Genetics in conservation management: Revised recommendations for the 50/500 rules, Red List criteria and population viability analyses; Richard Frankham a,b, Corey J.A. Bradshaw c, Barry W. Brook c; 2014

        Ovchinnikov IV, Dahms T, Herauf B, McCann B, Juras R, Castaneda C, Cothran EG. Genetic diversity and origin of the feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. PLoS One. 2018 Aug 1;13(8):e0200795. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200795. PMID: 30067807; PMCID: PMC6070244

        After you study those, and if you need more, do let me know, but be more specific if you don’t mind.

        • Jerry Thiessen says:

          Horses are horses are horses. There are between seven and nine million horses in the United States alone, All are genetically linked domestic stock and none in danger of extinction. Tell me again why we should pollute any public land with escaped, uncontrolled, domestic livestock.

          • Jeff Hoffman says:

            Because they are NATIVE. Simple as that, really.

            If you’re really concerned with “polluting” public land by grazing or any other method, you need to focus on cattle. THAT’s the big problem, not horses.

            • Jerry Thiessen says:

              Currently the BLM is caring for 50,000 plus feral horses taken from federal public domain at a cost of about $80 million a year, and the end game is nowhere in sight. The cattle problem is also terrible, but politically very different and should not be part of a “but what about” debate because that leads to a circular dead end. Two very distinct and separate issues.

              • Jeff Hoffman says:

                Horses are simply not a problem. Again, they are native.

                The grazing industry, mainly cattle and some domestic sheep, have done more environmental and ecological damage to the western U.S. than any other industry. Horses are a red herring, and just a distraction from the real problem of cattle.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      I agree!

      However, George doesn’t claim that horses were never native to North America. His position is that the ones running wild now, whether you call them “wild” or “feral,” are descended from domesticated horses and therefore should be removed. My position is that doesn’t matter, because horses are native to North America and were made extinct here by humans, so they should be reintroduced. And yes, I’m biased because I love horses, but I’m also and always Earth First! above all else, and I’d never advocate for any species that’s not native.

      Great analogy to the bison issue, BTW.

      • Maggie Frazier says:

        If the disease mentioned above is brucellosis – simple answer! Vaccinate cattle! The only “issue” I have seen when it comes to the danger(?) of brucellosis transfer to cattle never mentions any possibility of immunizing cattle or – another idea – a shocker – keep cattle out of areas where there are bison!!
        Sorry – off on a tangent – Wild Horses are the important subject.

  11. Jerry Thiessen says:

    Again, we have eight million horses in these United States with 50,000 plus being held in pens by the BLM at a huge cost to us taxpayers. That’s one horse for every 40 people in the US. And we want to polute and ravage our public domain with more? Really?

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      Pollute & ravage?
      The only reason those Wild Horses are in pens & costing taxpayers is because of the government’s protection of livestock producers & their lobby, the fossil fuel industry & THEIR lobby etc. The cost of these roundups & the cost of these contractors who are in business because of these roundups somehow never get mentioned.
      IF many of the former Herd Management Areas had NOT been zeroed out – likely for the benefit of said livestock or fossil fuels – there would be less “need” of all of these long-term pens.

      • Jerry Thiessen says:

        Since these 50,000 head of domestic livestock are being held because few are adopted out,with more on the way,why not run them through slaughter houses and make the nutritious meat available to us taxpayers? We hunter-gatherers would benefit. Or, we could just shoot them in there pens like some tribes do with bison. Yum. I’ll take mine medium rare, thank you.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      That’s nonsense. The vast majority of horses are domestic, which has nothing to do with this issue.

      • Kathleen Hayden says:

        San Diego, Oceanside, and Carlsbad were home to some of North America’s earliest horses between 37 and 43 million years ago. The court noted that ” In structure and purpose, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is nothing more than a land-use regulation enacted by Congress to ensure the survival of a particular species of wildlife. The feral argument is political and moot. (See)https://awionline.org/content/wild-horses-native-north-american-wildlife

        The Nat | San Diego Fossil Horses
        San Diego Natural History Museum
        https://www.sdnhm.org › exhibitions › the-horse › san-di…https://awionline.org/content/wild-horses-native-north-american-wildlife.

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          While we agree on this, that’s a legal argument, not an ecological nor moral one. The courts are no less corrupt, dishonest, and political than any other government institution or large corporation, so they have no credence with me. And I’m an attorney!

  12. Jerry Thiessen says:

    Mr. Hoffman, please define for us all what a “halfway decent human” is. Since I have been labeled by you as lower than that, I would really like to know. It’s important to me and I respect your vast knowledge. Use your best, highly trained, legal mind please. I’m serious.

  13. Jerry Thiessen says:

    I’m waiting Mr. Hoffman. Also, I’ve been looking around for my lost credibility and can’t seem to locate it. If you find it please send it to me and I will gladly pay the postage and send you a reward.

  14. Ida Lupine says:

    People love and want them, regardless. They have become symbols of the American West. Relocating them possibly, but killing them off is tremendously unethical, IMO.

    If people are considering bringing back the wooly mammoth, I really can’t see eliminating other species. There are non-native species that we will always have, that we choose to have, and I’m of the mind that the horses are a native species. I’ve always read that they are easier on the landscape than cattle, and cheatgrass is another one of the problems we created, we should deal with it in a better way.

    We put them here, we are responsible for them. We are not gods, we don’t get to choose what lives or dies IMO.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      But we DO choose what lives and dies all the time. By not removing non-native species, we are choosing that native species die. None of us would oppose non-native species if they didn’t harm native species. That’s the issue here.

      • Janelle Ghiorso says:

        The non native species that do the damage are cattle and sheep.

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          I agree that cattle and sheep do most of the damage — mainly cattle because there are so many of them — but all non-native species are harmful to native ones. For example, non-native grazers would eat food that should be available to native grazers. That’s just one very basic example.

          My position is that horses ARE native and should therefore be left alone. George claims that the horses are feral descendants of domesticated horses and therefore should be removed. I say it doesn’t matter, they’re still horses and it’s better ecologically to have even horses descended from domestic ones than none at all.

      • Ida Lupine says:

        It’s a difficult decision – in the Everglades, killing off on non-native snakes that people carelessly abandoned is distasteful but they have been doing great damage.

        The horses that are wild are not the same now as the domestic horses, they have reverted to the wild and it is their home.

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          I don’t advocate removing the horses because I consider them native. I DO advocate removing all cattle and domestic sheep from federal lands ASAP and by any means necessary, though of course the most humane means should be used where possible.

  15. Susan Rhem-Westhoff says:

    BLM are incompetent savages. They rounded up 4 McCullough Peak horses this week, no public viewing allowed. A young filly died from an acute head injury. Any wonder why they want no witnesses? Say no more. This needs to stop.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      In Earth First! in the 1980s we called them the Bureau of Livestock & Mining, or the Bureau of Leasing & Mining. They’re the worst of the federal agencies that manage federal land.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      It really is wrong and inhumane. The way they are abused is sickening. And the cattle industry influence here is huge as far as any other species on the land, native or not. Not exactly objective.

      They were selling them to slaughterhouses on the sly, see Tom Davis and Ken Salazar.

  16. Jannett says:

    Sorry George, I don’t agree. The horses were part of the working ranch when Roosevelt live there and should be kept as part of the park for future generations to enjoy. This is the only national park in the ten western states with horses regardless of the term wild or feral. People visit this park because of the horses, the town of Medora and the state of North Dakota benefit financially. It is part of the Old West. Leave them alone. They are native to me.

  17. Ted Chu says:

    The science proving horses are no more native wildlife in North America than are Herefords and black angus is indisputable.George is correct that they have no place competing with native species on public lands. Wuethner’s bona fides when it comes to his long public dedication and activism in opposition to public land livestock grazing are unassailable. All livestock damage to our fragile arid public lands is cumulative and additive over time regardless of the species doing the damage.It makes no difference to a sage-grouse hen seeking residual grass cover for nest concealment whether that grass was grazed off by a managed cow, feral horse or feral cow. There is no place for feral domestic animals on our national parks and feral horses need to be reduced to AML’s on other public land.If a truly native population of horses is someday found in some remote hidden canyon I will support their listing under the ESA. Until that time they don’t belong on national park lands designated by law to maintain native species and natural ecological processes.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      That’s simply not true, in fact the science is exactly the opposite. Even George doesn’t disputed that horses are native to North America. The issue is whether THESE horses should be considered native.

      • Jerry Thiessen says:

        Let’s follow Mr. Hoffman’s logic to conclusion. Going back far enough, among other grazing mega fauna, there were elephants, zebras, camels and ground sloths roaming North America. Since, like horses, these are all extant somewhere in the world today, why not bring them all back and put them in Yellowstone National Park?

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          I advocate bringing back all species that humans caused to become extinct. If the extinctions were natural, then oh well, RIP. Humans caused many species, including horses, to become extinct when humans arrived in North America.

  18. Ida Lupine says:

    Thought you’d find this interesting.

    It’s an essay from Emma Marris who wrote Rambunctious Garden.

    I know her ideas about wilderness are not always the most popular here (with me either!) but this one looks interesting. I attached the link to the study too:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2024/02/invasive-species-large-herbivores-plants/677325/

    https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.adh2616

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      This is utter BS, sounds like rancher propaganda. George’s book Welfare Ranching, and the book Sacred Cows at the Public Trough show MAJOR damages caused by cattle & domestic sheep grazing in the western U.S. alone. ALL non-native species cause ecological harm, because the ecosystems didn’t evolve with them. It’s really that simple. Human supremacists, who are just trying to justify their harmful behaviors and lifestyles, constantly come up with baloney like this. It’s not worth wasting time on, I didn’t get past the 2d paragraph.

      • Nancy says:

        Jeff, got a copy of Welfare Ranching years ago, good read (and I’ve lived in that entitled atmosphere of ranching for 30 years)

        but it doesn’t lend any info for those that want to get involved in making changes other than donating $$ to causes, organizations, that are too often bloated by donations and lose sight of their original goal.

        Shouldn’t have to school you on that and its a question that’s come up often on this site, over the years – who really gives a crap about wildlife and what’s left of wilderness areas?

        IMHO “Man”kind is far too busy trying to display our superiority over other species, and can’t be bothered these days looking at the facts, regardless of how true and where those facts come from.

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          I don’t understand your point. Are you saying that because Welfare Ranching doesn’t provide solutions, the facts in it are not valid? Or that we shouldn’t care about life other than humans? What exactly are you saying?

  19. Ida Lupine says:

    Well cattle are not wild and the sheer amount of them necessary to feed our multitudes certainly can do great ecological harm.

    But I was thinking more along the lines of wild horses, maybe it would have some mert? I have no reason to defend the ranching industry, I don’t even eat beef, and of course with their stance on wolves and wildlife, I cannot support them either.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      There’s no “can” about it, they DEFINITELY do immense harm. Cattle grazing is now one of the major harms that humans are doing to the planet. And cattle are not at all “necessary to feed our multitudes.” First and foremost, the multitudes need to be reduced to ecologically-balanced numbers (that will take hundreds of years to accomplish). Second, beef and all other farmed meat is unnatural and certainly not healthy, so by definition it’s not “needed” to feed anyone. Humans can get all their protein from plants, and eating some WILD meat once or twice per month is all that’s needed for vitamin B-12, which is the only reason that humans need to eat any meat.

  20. Ida Lupine says:

    ^^sorry that should read ‘merit’.

  21. Jerry Thiessen says:

    Are you OK?
    The 45 souls on the Lewis and Clark’s two year expedition to the Pacific and back would have soon starved out had they stuck to your diet plan. Can’t get thousands of needed calories per man per day from chokecherries, let alone find the time required to pluck enough plant material to sustain life along the way. They relied heavily on harvesting the fat and protein of wild animals (except for an occasional domestic horse and dog) for energy to keep trekking.
    The same for paleo Indians. Some foodstuffs came from berries, roots and tubers -sugar and startch- but animal fats and proteins were the main sources of energy. Anadromous fatty fish were heavily utilized along coastal rivers. Arctic Indians ate a lot of fish, caribou and the blubber of whales and seals.
    Over the past couple of centuries, advances in ag science have increased the yields of protein, fat and carbohydrates in a variety of plants and trees that were unavailable thousands of years ago. Various grains and legumes, along with tree fruits nd nuts, are good examples. Thank you aggies.
    Go pretend, as you will, that grubbing around for a few morsals of edible material from native plants to sustain human life on earth is possible, or even superior to what modern agriculture has given us. Go ahead, but that dog simply won’t hunt.
    Without question, this planet has a great abundance of humans which have caused, and continue to cause, terrible environmental problems. However, IMO, having humans somehow voluntarily revert to the stone age as a reasonable, or even possible, solution to tomorrow’s worldwide issues is a very, very, silly notion.
    Again, are you OK?

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Your comments are anti-environmental. Living as hunter-gatherers is the ONLY natural and ecologically harmless way to live. The fact that you denigrate that type of living says everything about YOU, and that attitude is the problem. Most hunter-gatherer societies are far more mentally and spiritually advanced than agricultural/civilized societies (I don’t mean intellectually; obsession with the intellect is part of the problem).

      Humans’ proper role on this planet is not physical, as should be quite obvious by both the fact that we’re so inferior physically to other similar-sized animals, and that we don’t provide ANY necessary ecological services in any ecosystem. Our focus should be on expanding our consciousness instead of ruining the natural world and killing all the life there for our own convenience and comfort. If that strikes you as “silly,” we have nothing further to discuss. Read this book outline and respond directly to the points made in it if you want to discuss this further: https://rewilding.org/fixing-humans-by-expanding-our-consciousness/

  22. Chris Zinda says:

    Adding to this discussion, Christopher Ketcham’s continuing capitalization on/exploitation of feral horse roundups while lamenting cattle grazing is duplicitous and harmful to any NPS removal effort.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey