Map of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
Two Horses and a Mule Died of Dehydration in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves Forest
Washington, DC — An attempt to criminally prosecute U.S. Forest Service employees for acts of cruelty to animals resulting in the death of two horses and a mule has been dropped, according to court records posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The dismissals followed an assertion of federal sovereign immunity in order to block prosecution in state court.
More than most federal agencies, the U.S. Forest Service uses horses and mules in its daily operations. Consequently, care and maintenance of equine livestock is an important duty on many national forests.
But there was a major breakdown of those responsibilities on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. In May of 2016, two horses (named Snip and Diesel) and a mule (named Little Bit) were moved out of the forest’s corral to a place aptly called Rattlesnake Pasture, which had not been occupied by horses for at least a decade because it had no reliable water source.
The animals were left unattended for four weeks without water during the hottest time of the year, with temperatures in the area ranging from 105 to 112°F. In late June, someone finally checked and found all three animals dead from dehydration.
An internal Forest Service investigation produced a final “report” that was only one page long yet was a model of obfuscation. It concluded that:
“Contributing to this unfortunate outcome was a compilation of past practices, unknown policies, poor communication, failure of leadership, local fire conditions and accretion of duties to an inexperienced employee.”
In short, the Forest Service held no one to account. Greenlee County took a different view and in April 2017 filed nine misdemeanor animal cruelty counts stemming from the animals’ deaths against two Forest Service employees, including the district ranger (who has since retired) responsible for livestock care.
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