NOTE: I submitted this on the final day of public comment period on the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Livestock Plan. I live 30 minutes away from the park, where wild horses have roamed longer than I’ve been alive. A new park Livestock Plan — put together quietly and quickly by the National Park Service — has stirred up the emotions of many in western North Dakota. Below, you’ll find my stance on the subject, which echoes the thoughts of many others in my region of the world.
The wild (feral) horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit are an iconic symbol of freedom and beauty in the American West.
Not only do the horses add to the park’s biodiversity and contribute to its rich natural and cultural history, the horses’ ability to roam freely within the national park’s boundaries serve as a symbol of our rights and freedoms as Americans.
But like with so many other decisions the federal government likes to make, it seems like freedom and history are of no value.
While we’ve all heard thousands of reasons as to why the wild horses shouldn’t be removed from Theodore Roosevelt National Park – be it from historic, ecological or financial perspectives – not once in the federal government’s plan have legitimate, scientific data-backed reasons been given to the public as to why this needs to happen. The NPS appears to be making its decisions based almost entirely on 45-year-old policy and overarching federal guidelines unspecific to any one national park or federally protected location.
The National Park Service must reconsider its downright egregious and short-sighted plan to forcibly remove any wild horses from Theodore Roosevelt National Park based almost entirely on decades-old policy. At worst, it must only consider Alternative A in the park’s Livestock Plan while amending it to update the current livestock management plan that caps the number of horses at 60 by working with park-specific ecologists, biologists and zoologists and amending the 1978 Environmental Assessment using modern scientific data and methodologies. The eye test alone shows the South Unit of the park is capable of handling far more than just 60 wild horses scattered across its 46,000 acres.
Unfortunately, it feels like National Park Service officials, and their federal overlords in the Biden Administration, have shown their cards with their refusal to lengthen the comment period for its Livestock Plan once North Dakotans began learning for themselves what decisions were being made about the park and wild horses in “open” government meetings. We in the American West have danced this dance with Washington, D.C., before. We know their agenda-driven decision is made and it’s not in the park’s best interests, regardless of how many thousands of letters they get begging them not to do what they’ve proposed.
It seems clear that the National Park Service has made up its mind that these healthy horses no longer deserve to roam in a mostly free and open landscape but instead belong behind much tighter fences, and are better off being managed by either tribal governments or the highest bidder. And again, no data-driven explanation has been given as to why a Native American tribe or a person with deep enough pockets to bid on these horses at government auction is better suited to home them than the park has been for generations.
Not only that, but unlike other animals in national parks, they’re safe. They keep their distance from humanity, as long as humanity keeps its distance from them.
As a former journalist and amateur photographer and videographer, I’ve written about these horses in the past. By happenstance, I’ve even found myself too close to them once or twice. I’ve seen their majestic, untamed beauty up close and personal. As someone who has been around livestock his entire life, it’s safe to say these horses are not like others. There’s something so much more regal about the freedoms they have. Their ability to roam and live their lives almost entirely without constraint is at the heart of why America was founded.
These horses play a unique and enjoyable role in not just the story of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but in the American story. Allowing them to continue roaming freely within the boundaries of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the best way to ensure their well-being, the health of the park’s ecosystems, and the enjoyment of the hundreds of thousands of visitors the national park receives each year.
My children and the generations to come after them will thank you for ensuring these horses’ freedoms.