Without public notice, the Forest Service resumes controversial capture operation of Alpine wild horses; young foals at risk of injury and death
Alpine, AZ (May 24, 2023) -- Today, a coalition of wild horse organizations expressed outrage at the discovery of a United States Forest Service (USFS) contractor setting up bait and trap pens in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest to capture the historic herd of Alpine wild horses. This move by the USFS was implemented without public notice and comes during the height of foaling season when new foals are being born in the forest.
This weekend, volunteers from the Alpine Wild Horse Advocates (AWHA) and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG), while photographing and recording the new foals in the forest, documented the contractor setting up the trap and baiting it with salt blocks. During this time, the volunteers noted more than a dozen foals under two weeks old – including one-day-old babies – as well as many heavily pregnant mares. Foaling season, as stated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is March 1st through June 30th. During that time, all BLM roundup operations are suspended.
Arizona Veterinarian Jennifer F. Johnson, VMD stated "Even the very first foals of the year are not strong enough yet to survive the trailer ride from the wild to holding, let alone the brand newborns. The vulnerable foals can get stuck in panels or get trampled and die an inhumane death in a packed trailer. The stress of transport can also lead to pregnant mares spontaneously aborting their fetus’; it is the worst possible time for the Forest Service to do this.”
The Alpine wild horse herd garnered national attention when volunteers with AWHA and SRWHMG came across the bodies of 43 slain wild horses, all with brutal gunshot wounds. The massacre rocked the state and reinvigorated calls for protections for this historic herd. To date, the Apache Sitgreaves Forest Service has not found the perpetrator(s) of the heinous crime and has failed to enact further protections for these beloved horses.
"The Apache Sitgreaves Forest Service chose not to humanely manage this historic herd using fertility control vaccines and as a result, is now seeing a growing population,” said Simone Netherlands, president of the SRWHMG. “This agency is not listening to the public, or the science and instead is acting with blatant disregard to the welfare of the horses by capturing them in secrecy and at the most dangerous time possible.”
At the same time that the USFS is claiming the 400 horses must be removed because of environmental concerns, the agency is reauthorizing year round livestock grazing of 687 cows in an area of the range where Alpine horses are known to live.
The Forest Service has not responded to requests from wild horse organizations to discuss humane management alternatives, like the successful fertility control program in the Salt River, which has led to a reduction in birth rate from 100 foals a year, to just one or two foals a year, for the past 3 years.
The rounded-up Alpine horses will be sold online to the highest bidder, with no limitation on slaughter. Last year, the USFS captured and removed 215 captured Alpine wild horses. SRWHMG paid for and facilitated the rescue of 173 Alpine wild horses, who were placed in sanctuaries and good homes. At least two Alpine wild horses died in the holding facility after SRWHMG already purchased them, and at least 3 had broken legs. To date, Forest Service has not otherwise publicly disclosed a total death toll from last year's capture operation.
Prior to last year’s removals, the groups had documented and individually identified 370 Alpine wild horses in a database. After the removals, many of the captured lead stallions never appeared for sale in the online auction. One of those stallions, a light buckskin horse named Hero, was identified at a ranch owned by a known associate of the roundup contractor, Rail Lazy H. Under state law, all horses removed as stray livestock must be placed for sale at a public auction.
The groups are calling on Arizona legislators and officials, asking for their support to prevent the mistreatment of living remnants of Arizona’s rich history.
Arizona’s State historian Marshall Trimble has done research into historic archives for this herd. He states: "The Alpine wild horses, who live around the Coronado Trail, are possibly the most historic wild horses in Arizona since they were left behind by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540 when he blazed that very trail. “It is a historic mistake to get rid of them all and a crying shame how they are being treated by our US government."
Below are videos taken by the horse advocates of day-old Alpine foals near the trap sites as well as video of the trap sites:
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