HEBER, AZ — March 16 is the deadline for public comment on the fate of the Heber Wild Horses. Last week, the Forest Service released its proposed management plan for the Heber Wild Horse Territory.
It includes plans to limit the horses' range to 21 square miles. The surrounding Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest covers more than 43 thousand square miles of public land.
Horse advocates say existing fencing prevents many of the horses from even accessing the designated territory. The Forest Service also intends to remove most of the horses from the area. They estimate there are currently between 292 and 471 horses.
The goal of the Forest Service is to limit the number of horses to 50 to 104. Critics say that would not allow for enough genetic diversity in the bands, or families, ultimately leading to the loss of all wild horses in that area.
The agency also maintains the horses are feral animals that came from nearby tribal land following the Rodeo Chediski Fire in 2002. Advocates for the horses say the herd dates back to the battles between Native Americans and early settlers.
The forest service has been fighting to have the horses removed since 2005, but has been under a court order prohibiting that until a management plan was completed.
That plan was released to the public February 14, 2020. By law, the agency must accept public comment until March 16, 2020.
The complete report and the public comment form can be found on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest website.