Home Outdoors Wild Heber Horses Heber Wild Horses — Are They Safe?

Heber Wild Horses — Are They Safe?

heber overgaard arizona
Wild horses on Forest Road 51, south of Overgaard, AZ.

It was a nice breezy summer day on Saturday, July 16, 2016 as the crowd gathered around the gazebo at Bison Ranch to hear an update on the Heber Wild Horses. And that was precisely the intent of organizers Mary Hauser and Robin Crawford for the event this day — to answer our questions and concerns and provide us with current information about the status of our Heber Wild Horses.

From left are Heber Wild Horse advocates Michelle, Robin Crawford and Mary Hauser.
From left are Heber Wild Horse advocates Michelle, Robin Crawford and Mary Hauser.

Hauser is a well-known photographer and advocate for the Heber Wild Horse Herd. She has recently become a homeowner here and sells her photography at Lone Eagle at Bison Ranch. Robin Crawford is a local realtor and works with Hauser in advocating for the Heber Wild Horses.

The meeting was light and friendly as Mary Hauser raffled off her beautiful photographs to many happy winners. Hauser then moved on to the more serious subject at hand. “The horses are not safe yet,” she stated, “But they are on hold which means the US Forest Service (USFS) is not moving forward to move the herd, nor have they been put into a management plan. Statements I’m making today are backed up with fact.” She went on to clarify that the Heber Wild Horses are not the Salt River Wild Horses or the White Mountain Horses or any other herd; other herds are separate and have different names and are territorial to specific areas around the state.

According to Hauser in May 2016 the Heber Wild Horses were put on ‘hold’…she explained that the Revised Land Management Plan for the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest (Forest Plan) didn’t include the Heber Wild Horses. Hauser told the group that an attorney representing the horses’ cause met recently in Albuquerque, New Mexico with the USFS and it was agreed at that time they would include the Heber Wild Horse herd management into the Forest Plan.

According to information provided to the Mogollon Rim News from the USFS, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros and Terra Wind Ranch Eco-Action Group had filed an appeal on behalf of the horses to the Forest Plan. The groups’ representatives met with Regional Forester Calvin Joyner at the Albuquerque meeting and agreed that the USFS would publish a set of administrative changes to the revised plan and add a list of corrections to the Forest Plan and the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The changes include adjustments to definitions and modification of language which characterized the horses as “feral” and “invasive.” The appellants then withdrew their formal appeal due to the resolution of their objections.

Heber wild horses were curious about us.
Heber wild horses were curious about us.

The USFS went on to explain in regards to the Heber Wild Horse Territory plan, they “are working with the public to develop a plan to direct specific management actions for the Heber Wild Horse Territory based on site-specific analysis.”

In attendance at the meeting was Ms. Kim Robinson of the K through 12 Sequoia Village School in Linden who intends to begin teaching the history and current facts on the Heber Wild Horses. Ms. Robinson expressed much enthusiasm for her new venture.

Hauser told the story of two women who in past years successfully worked for the protection of the wild horses — Wild Horse Annie and Dr. Pat Haight. Wild Horse Annie was responsible for getting the Wild Horse and Burro Act passed in 1971, known as the Wild Horse Annie Act in 1959. According to the Web site wildhorsepreservation.org, “In January 1959, Nevada Congressman Walter Baring introduced a bill prohibiting the use of motorized vehicles to hunt wild horses and burros on all public lands. The House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill which became known as the ‘Wild Horse Annie Act.’ The bill became Public Law 86-234 on Sept. 8, 1959; however, it did not include Annie’s recommendation that Congress initiate a program to protect, manage and control wild horses and burros. Public interest and concern continued to mount, and with it came the realization that federal management, protection, and control of wild horses and burros was essential. This would result in enactment of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Wild Horse Annie Act – Public Law 86-234”.

Dr. Pat Haight worked tirelessly and pressed on for many years dedicating her life for the freedom of the wild horses. In 1973, she was responsible for establishing the Heber Wild Horse Territory. Crawford used to confer with Dr. Haight in 2005 when there was talk of the Forest Service gathering up the wild horses then. Unfortunately, Dr. Haight passed away in her sleep far too soon.

The intent of establishing the Heber Wild Horse Territory was to help preserve wild free-roaming horses as living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West. For those of you who like to go out searching for the horses, Hauser warned about how important it is to not feed them or try and interact with them. They are a wild animal and must remain so for their own protection and yours. If they show acceptance of human handling they will be considered unauthorized domestic livestock and this is to the horse’s own detriment. Appreciate them from afar.

Hauser and Crawford’s passion for the horses is clear. Hauser urged the attendees, “Tell everyone, make statements, write a letter, keep vigil and active in what you do and say, and remember the Forest Service works for us, it’s about public lands. Keep sharing the knowledge and sheer existence of the horses so they remain for generations to come.”
You can follow their continuing saga on Facebook at Heber Wild Horses which is kept current and you can even see parts of this event there.

As far as the time line for the Heber Wild Horse Territory plan, USFS said they’re “working with partners to develop a collaborative process that will create an effective way for people to provide input in the planning process and stay informed throughout the process.” They’ve completed aerial surveys of the horses in and around the Territory, been meeting with other agency partners, collecting field data to support the planning process and completing an ethnographic study to better understand the population dynamics of the horses that originally occupied the Territory when it was established in 1974.

USFS is projecting they will be able to open the public engagement phase of the planning process later this year with a proposed action for the Territory Management Plan developed by late next year.

Background — why this is such a hot issue

By B. Samples
Over the last few years there has been talk by the USFS to reduce the numbers of horses from the Territory for several reasons.

  1. The horses have come under scrutiny with questions as to their heritage. The Wild Heber Horse Territory original horses are thought to have possibly died off years ago. Record keeping, or the lack thereof, by the USFS has been brought into question. Do these horses meet the definition in the law of a wild horse? Where, then, did the current horses come from? Were they turned out by irresponsible horse owners, lost livestock or, most likely, did they come from our neighboring Apache Reservation?
  2. The other issue pertains to land use as this particular forest is designated for multiple-use, including logging, livestock, grazing and recreation. Can the forest be maintained in a thriving natural ecological balance in this multiple use area with the current amount of horses and other activities? The Heber Wild Horse Territory which is 19,700 acres is shared by local ranch permittees who also graze their cattle on portions of the same land. The issue for Hauser, Crawford and the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros and Terra Wind Ranch Eco-Action Group is they want to prevent any management that would include removal and/or euthanizing of the horses.

Of course, local ranch permittees take exception to this premise as they don’t want to lose their grazing rights. After all, they were on the range long before the horse Territory was established.

My opinion (for what it’s worth): Seems the cowboys that use the rangeland are also “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West”. Plus, they are food producers which I personally would hate to do without. Economically this is a depressed area for those who have to work for a living. Logging was all but killed off. Ranching is one of the few things still producing here. I don’t want to buy beef that was raised in some other country and imported. How about jobs for Heber-Overgaard and safe food? Can I hear an AMEN?

There should be compromise for both sides like what was written into the original law.