“The Heber Wild Horse herd is a state and national treasure, they are the only wild horses in the state of Arizona”
Since October 2018, there have been 19 documented cases of deceased horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, said Steve Johnson, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests spokesman.
Of those, 11 horses were found with gunshot wounds, six were severely decomposed, with their cause of death still undetermined, one died after getting stuck in a cattle-guard and one died after “blunt force trauma” which usually involves a vehicle collision, Johnson said.
The horses are protected by federal law, and authorities investigate the deaths from unnatural causes.
In 1971, the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act was signed into law, stating that it is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death.
According to the Act in section 1338, “any person who, maliciously causes the death or harassment of any wild free-roaming horse or burro, shall be subject to a fine of not more than $2,000, or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.”
Who helps protect the horses?
The Heber Wild Horse herd is a state and national treasure, they are the only wild horses in the state of Arizona with their own dedicated territory, said Robin Crawford, Boots on the Ground member and educator for the Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance.
In 1973, the Heber horse herd received their official territory, and in 2005 the horses were placed under a federal court order of protection, and The National Forest Service was assigned to protect all free-roaming horses in the area, until a management plan was put in place, which at this time is still in progress, Crawford said.
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Black Mesa Ranger District has posted public notices that are intended to “inform the public about the protections afforded to wild horses, the criminal provisions for violations, and important contact information for reporting incidents and providing tips to law enforcement,” Johnson said.
The Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance, HWHFPA, is a grassroots advocacy group located in the Heber-Overgaard area and Phoenix since 2005. The HWHFPA aims to keep all wild horses on the Sitgreaves National Forest free and free-roaming, Crawford said.
The alliance is not a rescue and does not interfere in the natural herd behavior, Crawford said.
What’s being done about the deaths?
In response to the growing number of incidents reported, Forest Service patrols were increased in and around the area, the Forest Service has collaborated with Arizona Game and Fish, and the Navajo and Coconino Sheriff’s offices, Johnson said.
When the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations officers are advised of the criminal incidents they respond to the scene to determine the cause of death of the horses, Johnson said.
Then, if it is needed, a veterinary expert assigned to the region is called and follows all appropriate American Veterinary Medical Associate guidelines for the injured horses, Johnson said.
During investigations of each scene, any witnesses are interviewed and evidence is collected, the reports are then brought to the assistant U.S. Attorney, who is the prosecuting representative for the federal court proceedings, Johnson said.
Johnson stated that because investigations are on-going he could not comment at this time if anyone had been caught or arrested for shooting at these protected wild horses.
The Forest Service advises the public to contact the Black Mesa Ranger District at 928-535-7300 immediately if they encounter an injured or deceased horse. Anyone with information about horse incidents can call the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 800-78CRIME (800-782-7463), according to the posted public notice flier.