Hoeven, state officials push to maintain wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the group of North Dakota leaders "made the case very clearly" for keeping the wild horses and "will work to get it done."
FARGO — Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and state leaders met with National Park Service leaders to press their case for maintaining a herd of wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The teleconference on Thursday, Feb. 2, included Charles Sams, director of the National Park Service and Angie Richman, superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, who has announced the park’s plan to gradually remove the wild horses, which now number 186, and 12 longhorn cattle.
Joining Hoeven were Gov. Doug Burgum, Attorney General Drew Wrigley and top legislative leaders, including Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, the Senate majority leader; Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, the Senate minority leader; Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, the House majority leader and Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, the House minority leader.
“We made the case very clearly that we need to keep horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” Hoeven said in a video recording released by his office. “We made good progress in the meeting and we’re going to work to get it done.”
Hoeven said he also has consulted with Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., “who is assisting in the effort.”
“We have heard an outpouring of concerns from North Dakotans regarding the Park Service’s plan to remove the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” Hoeven said in a statement. “We convened this meeting to directly relay these concerns to the Park Service leadership and to press them to work with us to maintain a herd of wild horses in the park.”
Hoeven's committee assignments include the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which oversees the national parks.
Last year, park officials announced they were embarking on a process to draft a new management plan for the horses — which they have referred to as a “livestock” management plan, a term that has sparked controversy — and would consider options ranging from making no changes to eliminating the herd.
Park officials recently announced that their preferred alternative is to gradually eliminate the herd, through continued birth control and allowing current horses to live out their natural lives.
Richman and other park officials have said their mission is to conserve native species, such as bison, elk, deer and pronghorns, not Theodore Roosevelt’s ranching legacy. The park originally was established as the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park and preserves Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Ranch cabin and the site of his Elkhorn Ranch, a unit of the park.
Burgum has written to park officials to urge them to keep the horse herd and to offer the state’s resources and expertise to help maintain the herd.
“We appreciate Director Sims taking the time to listen to our concerns about removing the wild horses, which would not only hurt tourism at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the surrounding communities, but also irreparable damage the deep connections between the wild horses and Theodore Roosevelt’s ranching and conservation legacy,” Burgum said in a statement.
At the meeting, Burgum repeated his offer to collaborate with the park to find a way to keep the horses, “whether with resources or management expertise, to ensure that the herd of wild horses can be maintained in a manner and size that supports genetic diversity and protects the park for visitors today and for generations to come.”
Officials in North Dakota and in Medora have said the horses are a significant draw to the park. The horses have a huge following on social media, with more than 1 million unique followers for fan pages devoted to the wild horse herd, tracking each band and all of the horses.
“As evidenced by the groundswell of support from across the nation, these wild horses are a differentiator for our state’s top tourism destination and hold a special place in the hearts of citizens from North Dakota and beyond,” Burgum said.
Messages seeking comment from Richman were not immediately returned Tuesday. The park just closed a public comment period on Tuesday, Jan. 31, and will release its draft management plan later this year, with another round of public comment to follow.