Horse News

Heber-Overgaard Wild Horse Killing Spree Divides Community

By: Sonu Wasu as published on ABC 15 Arizona

Who is behind a violent killing spree of wild horses, taking place in the Heber-Overgaard area?

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It is a mystery that has a community frustrated, angry, deeply divided, and some even living in fear of their own safety.

Despite local forest service officials telling community members there is no threat to human life, some in the community scoff at that answer, saying it’s obvious, a sociopath with no remorse for innocent animals is boldly taking lives on federal land, how can they not live in fear?

Many advocates who have been demanding action by local, state, and federal officials tell ABC15 they have received dozens of threats in person, and through social media from people in the community telling them to “keep their mouths shut.” Some of them were veiled threats that included pictures of the outside of their homes, or their pets.

One message a Heber horse advocate received included recipes for dishes including horse meat. Another who asked ABC15 not to use her name said she had had people come up to her in public places and “get in her face” over her horse advocacy.

One person even spat on her while she was in line at a local gas station.

Kathleen Lewis, a Heber resident says she decided to get involved in advocating for the horses and being their voice after the mass killing of 15 horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest last month.

These horses that included several foals took place in the Black Mesa Ranger District outside of the Heber Wild Horse territory and the Bison Ranch area near Forest Road 144.

What was different about these horse killings was not just the sheer numbers found dead at once.

“This was a group shooting. A complete band was shot,” said Mary Hauser, a member of the Heber Wild Horse Freedom Preservation Alliance, as she broke down in tears.

“Unfortunately in my mind, there is a very sick person out there who is doing this. They are killing innocent animals,” said Hauser.

ABC15 is hearing from several horse advocates who tell us they are being harassed by other community members in Heber-Overgaard for their stance on protecting the Heber wild horses.

Lewis said she had turned all of the threats over to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is not healthy for our kids, not healthy for our community. Neighbors are against neighbors, friends are against friends. You’re afraid to even go out now. I am carrying a gun which I’ve never done before,” said Lewis.

Several residents tell ABC15 the horse killings have fractured the tight-knit community, known for its small-town charm and good old fashioned values.

“We are the community that helps each other, works hard, and we are tired of being attacked over these horses,” said Kathy Gibson Boatman, who came from an eighth-generation cattle farming family in the community.

Gibson said many horse advocates in the community believed ranchers may be behind mysterious horse shootings in the forest, and that is because many in the ranching community had made it no secret, they wanted the Heber horses gone.

The horses were grazing on land they wanted for their cattle and ranchers considered them a pest, but Boatman said ranchers did not support shooting horses to get rid of them.

Boatman said ranchers also felt the horses in question did not qualify as “federally protected horses,” as they had intermingled with other domestic species. She called them all “domestic horses.”

Regardless of the horse’s lineage, the fact that could not be ignored here, is that someone was shooting and killing animals on forest land. They wanted to see the forest service step in to manage the herds, and thin the population of horses.

Ranchers supported bring back horse “round-ups” that they said have been taking place in the community for generations before animal activists sued to have them stopped.

“Prior to this love affair with this herd of horses they would gather the horses, they would round them up, and they would slaughter them,” said Boatman.

She stressed ranchers did not support shooting and killing horses.

“There are laws that say you cannot do that, but unfortunately you know our Arizona history has shown us, when the law- the authorities don’t do the proper thing, unfortunately sometimes people take vigilante justice. They do,” said Boatman.

She also theorized that horse advocates themselves could be behind the killings.

“These activists, I’m concerned they could be the ones doing it, to bring notoriety to the horses. They benefit from it, they fundraise off of it. They inflame the general public about the whole situation, so you know, I’ve wondered. I’ve wondered,” she added.

ABC15 reached out to the U.S. Forest Service to find out what’s being done to find the killer of these wild horses?

A spokesperson sent us this statement:

“USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement & Investigations responded to the incident on January 9th, after a forest visitor reported the deceased horses to Arizona’s Department of Game and Fish. On January 10th, the Forest Service deployed additional law enforcement and equine experts to investigate the deaths and collect evidence. At this time, the Forest Service is offering up to $5000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the illegal killing of the horses found on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. If members of the public have any tips, they should contact the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 1-800-78 CRIME (27463). Information from tips is helpful and we follow up on all leads.

To investigate this type of incident, Forest Service Law Enforcement & Investigations collaborates across jurisdictions and uses all the available tools. While criminal investigations are ongoing, it is common that not all facts can be released immediately. However, we remain as open and transparent as possible and will update information as it becomes available. The best place to find up to date information is at or follow the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests on Twitter @A_SNFs.

ABC15 has also asked the forest service to clarify if the Heber horses “federally protected.” Here is the response:

“The Wild Horses and Burros Protection Act of 1971 protects unmarked and unclaimed horses and their progeny that were considered wild and free roaming on public lands at the time of passage of this legislation. After this law was passed, the Heber Wild Horse Territory was established. Therefore, all unmarked and unclaimed horses in the territory are protected. When we observe a marked horse, we report it to the Arizona Livestock Board which identifies and contacts the owner. When a horse is unmarked but a party claims ownership, the owner can pick up the horse from the territory.”

The forest service is expected to release a horse management plan later this week. To learn more about the Heber horses visit or

13 replies »

  1. “She also theorized that horse advocates themselves could be behind the killings.”…what an idiotic thing for this Kathy Boatman to say. Her other remarks are unfortunately representative of what ranchers in that area all seem to think, viewing the wild horses as pests and “domestic” and commenting about roundups and sending thees horses to slaughter. I find it concerning that law enforcement isn’t taking the killings of the wild horses seriously, or see the person doing this heinous act as a possible threat to people, not to mention not seeming to be concerned about the threats towards advocates or folks who are pushing to get the killers caught. We’ve seen this all before, and it’s unfortunately it’s usually cattle ranchers who are at war with the wild horses and those who want to protect them. The “horse management” plan that the Forest Service is creating sounds ominous to me and I have a feeling will be more placating of the ranchers and involve more needless roundups. I applaud Kathleen Lewis and the Heber Wild Horse Freedom Preservation Alliance, who are tirelessly working to get these horses protected and their killers caught, despite the threats.


  2. Heber Wild Horses


    Today we were told by Arizona Game and Fish Department Officer Bob Birkeland that the Forest Service will be releasing the Heber Wild Horse Territory management plan draft to the media this Friday with the release to the general public most likely coming out on Monday.
    This is such a critical time for Arizona’s Heber Wild Horse Herd because implementation of a Heber Wild Horse Territory management plan is required in order for the FOREST SERVICE TO DO A HERD CULL.
    We all have to be ready to be the voices for these horses when the official public comment period opens.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Heber Wild Horses

    Arizona Game and Fish Department Observed 65 Horses in Hunting Unit 3C During Their Sept. 2019 Helicopter Survey

    Arizona Game and Fish Dept Officer Bob Birkeland has been telling people that during the AZGFD Sept. 2019 flight survey they counted nearly 1,000 “feral” horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves hunting Unit 3C.

    However, the response we received from a Public Records Request we filed with the Arizona Game and Fish Department tells a different story. Per AZGFD records, 65 “feral” horses were observed during their September 2019 helicopter survey. AZGFD does not survey specifically for horses. Horses and other animals such as mule deer and coyotes are considered incidentals.

    The 2019 AZGFD elk survey for Unit 3C consisted of two helicopter flights:

    Flight 1 on September 9, 2019 recorded having observed 49 “feral” horses.

    Flight 2 on September 10, 2019 recorded having observed 16 “feral” horses.

    Total: 65 horses for the AZGFD September 2019 helicopter survey.

    Among the characters who were NOT on the helicopter that did the survey:

    Smokey Bear
    Woodsy Owl
    Bob Birkeland

    By the way, all of the free-roaming horses in the Sitgreaves National Forest are under federal protection.

    The Big Lie

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Joseph Goebbels

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In this day and age there are cameras everywhere. Satellite photos and cameras showing people entering the area of the killings. If you search cameras enough they can be found. These people need to.inform people telling them shut up on social media they may be implicating themselves in a crime by making threats leaving them open to investigation, charges as well as lawsuits. This is a stunt pulled to get the approval to remove the horses. That’s why the threats. They kill a few to make it appear unknown and thencwalla they remove them for their safety. Horse slaughter has done this repeatedly. As for lashing pop out at Advocates that’s what Sue Wallis and Dave D did repeatedly. Threats. Constant threats.

    Liked by 2 people



    Herber Wild Horses (excerpts)

    For example, an EIS is suppose to list every water source in the area, how many gallons per hour it produces (so they can determine how much water is available to support wild horse populations, wildlife and livestock) and if the quality of the water meets federal standards.

    They are also suppose to provide data on “forage production”, (i.e., how many pounds of food are totally available in the proposal area so they can then determine what they have to work with when they cut up the forage pie) and “carrying capacity”, which determines how many acres it takes to feed a horse, cow, sheep, deer, etc. for a month. This is how they are suppose to use science to determine proper allocations without causing over stocking (too many animals for the environment to support in healthy ways).

    An example might include:

    USFS determines 100k pounds of total forage is available within the boundaries of the Herber Wild Horse Territory but of course, they don’t want to allocate it ALL or it would be stripped to the bone and nobody could survive later! So they use a “standard” allocation of 35-50% (35% is the result of the newest studies on rangeland health while 50% is the old standard and is almost ALWAYS used for livestock grazing allocations.)

    So, now that they know they have 100k pounds available, they only want to allocate 35k to 50k lbs for use so the area doesn’t end up looking like a desert due to their “management strategies”.

    Then they break it down further by determining an Animal Unit Month (AUM) meaning, based on the data above, they figure out how many acres it takes to feed a 1,000 pound animal for a month and this figure will vary depending on the area- deserts obviously produce much less forage than green pastures do! For example, in one area, it may take up to 25 acres at 50% use to feed a horse or cow and calf or it may take as little as 5 acres and that’s how they figure out how much to allocate in their proposals.

    Once they get this number, now comes the fun part – who get’s what?

    Do they give the bulk of it to livestock grazing? Do they issue wild horse population numbers that are so low they don’t even have to bother allocating them anything? Do they reserve it mostly for “wildlife”? (reading between the lines, this almost always means big game species)

    One of the big tricks our government agencies have “converted too” over the years is something called utilization levels. While this technique is good for measuring what is being used on an annual basis, it is NOT a substitute for first determining what is available before they start measuring how much of that available forage can be doled out.

    They also like this technique because they are able to decide “what” areas qualify as the “key monitoring areas” they will take the measurements from and these can vary – wild horses may get the crap locations that nothing has grown in for a decade as their “key monitoring area” while livestock get the most prime locations measured before they turn them out to pasture…..

    All these factors USFS is hoping the general public is largely ignorant of but consider surprising them by asking them to provide data and information in the EIS that covers:

    *Forage production (before and after the wildfire damage)?
    *Carrying capacity (before and after the wildfire damage)?
    *Acres allocated per Animal Unit Month?
    *Current and historical grazing allocations for livestock?
    *Temporary grazing permits issued in the last 10 years?
    *Total available water sources in the area?
    *Gallons per hour of these water sources?
    *How many water sources have been fenced?
    *Miles of fencing in the area?
    *Total big game species populations in the area, including how many they ultimately plan to manage for if those species are not currently at their maximum population targets?
    *How they plan to distinguish wild horse use from other rangeland users?

    For extra credit, ask USFS why they are putting the cart before the horse in deciding how to “keep the populations low” through the use of fertility control when they have failed to report on how many wild horses can actually be supported in the area first or what their reproduction rates actually are?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Time to DEEPLY investigate Bob Birkeland!!! This smells and absolutely reeks of payoffs, kickbacks. It is either that or complete incompetence and gross ignorance. Either way it is not fitting for a person in this position. I am concerned that his grossly inflated numbers will be those that are “released” in the upcoming report. Thus, they will feel justified in their little cull, which at even the true low count of 60 or so will be entirely wiped out, without missing a heartbeat. This would give the “ranchers ” something to ballyhoo about.

    I’m doing my part. I have completely been boycotting beef for years now. In solidarity for the wild ones everywhere under the hateful threats from mega ranchers and Big Ag operations throughout the US. I encourage everyone I know to do the same. I am not a liberal, I’m a die-hard conservative that genuinely cares .

    Liked by 1 person

  7. From PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
    June 2017

    Animal Cruelty Case vs. U.S. Forest Service Sidelined
    Two Horses and a Mule Died of Dehydration in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves Forest

    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.

    “Spin, Diesel and Little Bit died of thirst but the real killer was inattention to duty compounded by official indifference,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the forest has a Livestock Management Plan which requires equines be inspected at least once every two weeks. “The Forest Service routinely tickets members of the public but rarely tags one of its own.”


  8. The police had better publish the complainers as “pests” that is who you should look at. This is unforgivable. Those animals belong to the people, and killing them is a crime. Get some drones in there, cameras, anything you should have to find these people. 80% of the people love these BEAUTIFUL Animals! They are at home there, they are indigenous to Az.. and every other state they are in. They are not pests, Az just has too many people!!!


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