170 wild horses roam the 47,000 acres of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). KX News caught up with park management to learn more about how the park works to prevent overpopulation of the herd.
For years, the park has used a capturing process to prevent overpopulation. Last year the process didn’t happen because of the pandemic. But this year, management says it must be done to keep the park healthy.
Blake McCann, the Director of Resource Management and Science at TRNP says, “It is a reproductive herd. There is limited rangeland out here. The park is fenced and the horses compete with native wildlife for resources.”
To control overpopulation, the park uses tranquilizer darts to anesthetize the animal, haul them to a facility with shelter, food, water, and veterinary care before they’re auctioned to the public.
MaryLu Weber, the President of North Dakota Badlands Horse, has tracked and documented the horses since the late 80s, even volunteering with the park for 22 years.
Weber, says, “So they capture some of the young horses and they sell them to people so that they have good homes. I mean, we know so many people that just love these horses. They just can’t say enough good things about these wonderful horses.”
Blake McCann the Director of Resource Management and Science for the park says culling the herd is essential for the horses and the park. McCann says they plan to capture 10 horses this week and capture more over the next several weeks. They don’t have an exact number they plan to sell.
When we asked the park about their horse management plan, they said they don’t have one right now, but they are working on one. Several horse advocacy groups don’t agree with that. Their foremost concern is preserving the original genetics in the herd to keep the park in its natural state.
Chris Kman from Chasing Horses says, “It takes a certain horse to live in the badlands of North Dakota and they proved this themselves when they tried to introduce new blood. These are smaller horses that can maneuver around the badlands. And they’re not keeping any of the horses that they should to keep bloodlines going.”
Frank Kuntz from Nokota Horse Conservancy agrees.
Kuntz says, “They gotta do something because they got an inbreeding problem. I mean, does that make sense? And they continue to go down that road. Pick off the young, leave the old, pretty soon you got a dead herd out there, an inbred herd that’s gonna cause more and more health issues and problems.”
McCann says it’s not about genetics. It’s about the overall health of the park, which has thousands of species of plants and animals that make the park unique and diverse.
McCann adds, “We’re working very hard to use best practices for resource management that are informed by science. We manage at the herd level. As we do with other animals in the park in that, we don’t tend to look at individuals either genetically or otherwise. It’s the herd level statistics and health that we’re most concerned with.”
McCann says as of right now they will continue to capture horses until they feel the population is under control.
For more information on the horses go here.