SPRINGERVILLE, AZ (March 20, 2020) — Fugitive Watch reports: Authorities know from necropsies what killed four of a dozen wild horses that were recently found dead in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. The iconic symbols of the American West were shot. Now, investigators want to know who shot the horses — part of the federally protected herd of Heber Wild Horses that have roamed Arizona’s Rim Country for centuries — and why.
These type of horse killings have been going on for some time. In addition to the 15 that have been shot since the beginning of 2020, from October 2018 to mid-2019 at least 19 wild horses were reported dead, 11 from gunshot wounds.
In a statement, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests officials asked people to stay away from the area where the wild horses roam during the criminal investigation. It is coordinated by park law enforcement officials, federal equine experts and the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office.
The Black Mesa District Ranger asked people who encounter dead or injured horses to call 928-535-7300.
A conviction for causing the death of or harassing a federally protected wild horse or burro carries a maximum penalty of a $2,000 fine and a year in jail under the U.S. Code. Arizona animal cruelty laws could come into play as well. The Heber horses and other wild horses on federally managed land have been protected by law since 1973.
The Heber Wild Horses are the only wild horses in Arizona with a dedicated territory. They are regarded as a State and National treasure — with a few exceptions. President Trump’s acting head of the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, called wild horses “an existential threat” to public lands in the West.
“They are causing havoc on the land,” Pendley said at an October meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Fort Collins, Colorado. “They say some land in the West is so devastated and destroyed it will never recover.”
The BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board discussed slaughtering wild horses to control the population, but it took that lethal measure off the table in July amid a fierce outcry that prompted one program official to say “the smart political thing in this program is really to do nothing.”
In the meantime, Heber horses are being shot and killed. 15 have been wiped out since the beginning of this year. However, it appears that these killings occurred in a pretty narrow window. What’s that about?
Forest Spokesperson Steve Johnson says the total is now fifteen horses found dead between Jan. 9 and 14.
“Several of the horses did die due to bullet wounds,” Johnson said. “In other cases, they’re out there in the weather, and the scavengers and the predators move in pretty quick, so we miss that crucial 24-hour, 48-hour window to collect evidence. We’re developing protocol to get people on the scene quicker so we can take advantage of that critical first 24-hour window.”
Rangers from the forest will partner with local and state law enforcement agencies to respond faster so evidence can be collected before the elements destroy it.
March 16, 2020 was the deadline for public comments regarding the future of this rare and valuable herd. We will report as soon as we know the results. Thank you everyone who spoke up for these horses.
Vivian Farrell of the Fund for Horses states:
It is our experience and many others over the decades that there is absolutely no history, in any part of the United States, of wild horses and burros “destroying the land” or “devastating” anything. That’s done by welfare cattle ranchers and public land moochers, corporate or otherwise. Yet, Dept of Interior and Bureau of Land Management officials continue to perpetuate these lies against America’s wild, free-roaming horses. They offer nothing but what we see as self-serving opinions. Where is their evidence? Where is their science? Wild horses have been reintroduced in other parts of the world to restore devastated lands with wonderful success.
 If you are a wild horse enthusiast and have the time, please read this from High Country News, “BLM chief’s wild horse fixation distracts from the real threats to public land.” The author gives valuable insight and information plus shares some interesting views. We love almost every single one of them.