Horse News

What’s being done about the fatal shooting of wild horses in Heber-Overgaard?

by , Arizona Republic

“The Heber Wild Horse herd is a state and national treasure, they are the only wild horses in the state of Arizona”

Confused Wild Horses linger neart the site where two horses were shot in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. (Photo: Robert Hutchison)

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.

17 replies »

  1. Question, even if the investigation is ongoing and they can’t / won’t release any information, normally with law enforcement investigations don’t they usually state within a few days that they are in contact with or looking for or have questioned a “person of interest”?

    Are they just sweeping this under the rug and hoping everyone will forget about it as they have done almost always in other federally protected animal kills?

    Is the shooter a friend or neighbor or relative or local business person or fellow church member or rancher or somehow related or connected to the FS or law enforcement ?

    SOMEBODY KNOWS who did these killings.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Heber Wild Horses Facebook

      Reader comment:

      Sadly, the cameras that were installed by volunteers have been either vandalized or stolen. SOMEBODY KNOWS!!! This is a massive cover-up in my opinion. Deputies are also looking the other way, which tells a lot. Not saying they are shooting, but they are in cahoots with the ranchers and they hate us volunteers, especially after last year’s effort to keep these animals alive during the drought. Our effort put us on the radar, we are being called all sorts of colorful names, lives have been threatened also. Clearly, these horses were not murdered by hunters, because hunters take the body home and feed their families…. These murders are cold hearted unconscionable acts. Some day, someone will spill the beans. I still say signs about a reward might trigger something. Not sure where the reward amount stands and whether those monies are only promised for a conviction…

      Liked by 2 people

      • From Citizens Against Equine Slaughter
        May 2018


        After a week-long battle CAES has been given permission to provide water for horses the Forest Service (FS) has allowed remaining trapped inside an area with no water. CAES received a call from our Arizona branch, the Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance, letting us know that the FS had a band of 15 – 20 wild horses trapped in a fenced area where they cannot get to water. Our team there was told by the FS that they were not going to supply water to the horses. They stated that the cattle would be back out on the range in 2 weeks and the ranchers would be putting water out then.

        The Information Assistant, Steve Johnson sent this email to one of our members:
        P: 928-333-6348, F: 928-333-5966, STEVENMJOHNSON02@FS.FED.US

        When CAES board member, Val Cecama-Hogsett got involved she spoke with Mr. Johnson. He told her this closing of gates was to prevent a situation such as the one that allegedly happened on the Navajo reservation. The truth, in this case, is that there are no gates between these horses and the water, just miles of cattle fencing. He informed Val of the working group with local people. There is a meeting Monday for ongoing topics. But this is an urgent situation that has already claimed one wild horse’s life.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is disgusting! This is why we need more gun control! When are they going to take away the weapons of these sickos! They should hire specific people to be there ALL the time! Whose protecting them? Lame ass excuses or they wouldn’t be able to be shot! And people drive like maniacs! Slow down! You must be BLIND if you can’t see a horse! Everyone wants to kill them out there! Get the FREE loaders off public lands! And prosecute the killers instead of letting them get away! Will they find the killers? I doubt it seriously! Probably low on their list of priorities!


  3. A few weeks ago a man was seen by an eye witness shooting at Heber wild horses. Forest Service was notified. The eye witness was still there and so was the shooter but nobody from the Forest Service ever…showed…up! This incident took place in the Sitgreaves National Forest and it involved a shooting suspect, an eyewitness, and federally protected wild horses which the Forest Service is mandated to protect…but they could not be bothered.

    “Once it is determined that they have died from causes other than natural causes, they begin to investigate immediately, Johnson said.” Wrong! Bullet holes were apparent in many of the horse carcasses. Days passed with no true investigation being done by Forest Service. So one of our people left a phone message for FS Officer Lopez asking if he was finished with his investigation because we wanted to bring in our own veterinarian. The next day Officer Lopez replied back to her that FS was bringing in a veterinarian. Finally necropsies were done by Forest Service. Bullets were retrieved from the bodies of many of the horses, their cause of death was officially determined to be fatal gunshot wounds. By that time some of the carcasses were too scavenged to gather evidence needed to definitely determine the cause of death.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That pretty well sums up the attitude of law enforcement and agency officials who by congressional law are required to PROTECT the public lands and resources including our wild horses and wild burros. They either don’t want to have the extra work involved with a shooting and/or they are somehow personally “acquainted” with the shooter(s) and have fear of the possible retribution the shooters might cause them personally or their own families. Regardless … somebody KNOWS who did these dastardly killings.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A photographer actually saw a person shooting at these horses! he said he was ‘shooting at a rock for target practice” and the officer let him go! why weren’t casings matched up with the ones found at the location of some of these horses deaths???? why would such a flimsy story be believed??? geeeezzzz

    Liked by 2 people

  5. From Citizens Against Equine Slaughter (excerpts)
    Many good photos on their website


    Heber Wild Horse Management Plan will be drafted by people who have no interest in providing management for the health or protection of the wild horses. The only real advocate for the horses was just fired. Fired from a working group??
    They fired her through a voicemail…how cowardly is that?!?!
    Click here to listen
    This comes just days after Mary Hauser, with the help of her organization had submitted her thoughts on the recommendations for the first Heber wild horse management plan in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
    The working group has been a very hostile environment for Mary. And the meetings have been held illegally behind closed doors, no public allowed, no minutes kept, not even a recording of these meetings. They have been held over the phone when Mary was at work and Mary was not allowed a substitute if she could not be there. Another member of our Arizona branch (the Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance – HWHFPA) and Val Cecama-Hogsett from CAES tried to substitute for Mary and even asked to be allowed just to listen as members of the public, we were NOT allowed.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A curious fact about this forest service is the allotment holders. There are a few longterm large ranches, but there are many shortterm ranches. Meaning a tiny amount of acreage is bought and with that 10’s of thousands of forest service land is granted in allotments. Two examples are two ranches currently up for sale. One with 15 deeded acres with 28,000 forest services allotted acres, the other at 50 deeded acres with 32,000 allotted acres. No buildings only small fenced pastures and a loading dock. Water systems if one checked probably was granted by us the public. Now these two ranches are up for sale in the millions. (note;, current value of Az 15 bare acres are worth 5,000.) so the amount the seller is making is off of the allotments. Millions. Is this right, No, Should this be stopped, Yes..(question, are they part of a larger corporation?).

    I fear the killers are from these ranchers, I also fear they along with many ranchers across the west next to wild horse areas were set up in part for clandestine rustling of our horses. I fear our employees being paid by us are in cahoots with these crimes. Last year in this forest a corralled group of wild horses were found and released by photographers. Corrals were also found in other parts of AZ and the fear is of burro rustling. The killings are being done by some very sick individuals that justify their crime, as long as they get away with it, they will continue.

    Liked by 1 person

      • The Taylor Grazing Act expressly spells out that grazing permits are privileges, not rights, and especially are NOT property rights. That our system has usurped this to the tune of Billion$$ is inherently illegal and unethical in the kindest of terms. It’s especially imperative in these times to recognize water is the new “wild west” and some reports surface occasionally of permit holders selling off water use to others for profit, in the too-familliar “buy and dry” manipulation of already dry western lands. That this happens on public lands, and is often a ruse for removing wild horses and burros, should raise alarms for everyone. Once the wild horses and burros are gone, this perversity of our system will continue, and we will all be diminished together with our treasured public lands.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Current and Recent Projects

    Heber Allotment Analysis
    Allotment analysis to determine re-issuance of a term grazing permit, what grazing management strategy will be implemented in the allotment management plan (AMP), treatments for grassland restoration and maintenance, and placement of tanks and fence.

    Stateline Range NEPA
    Re-authorize livestock grazing for allotments on Gila NF-Glenwood RD: Alma, Citizen, Dry Creek, Holt Gulch, Pleasanton, Potholes & Sacaton; and on A-S NF-Clifton RD: Alma Mesa, Lop Ear, Copperas, Pleasant Valley, Blackjack, Hickey & Keller Canyon

    Wildbunch Allotment Management Plan (AMP) – 0103
    AMP analysis for future livestock mgmt.

    North Escudilla Livestock Grazing Allotment Analysis
    Develop an allotment management plan (AMP) that accounts for current environmental conditions, identifies a management strategy in balance with overall livestock grazing allotment capacity which progresses towards achieving desired conditions.

    Ryan Ranch Easement
    Provide an easement to allow access to private property historically known as Ryan Ranch that would extend 942 linear feet from Forest Service Road 99A and along previously numbered Road 99M to the property. A gate may be placed at FS Road 99A


    • You didn’t read the entire sentence Annie, “they are the only wild horses in the state of Arizona with their own dedicated territory”.

      Liked by 1 person

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