Nothing in recent memory has stirred up as much emotion among Bad Lands enthusiasts as the goofy process now underway to rid Theodore Roosevelt National Park of its wild horse herd. The papers have been flooded with letters to the editor, and newspaper editors themselves have even published editorials telling the National Park Service to keep the horses. My friend Patrick Springer has written a couple of really good stories for his newspapers in Fargo, Grand Forks, Dickinson and Jamestown. You can read them here and here. Legislators and U.S. Senators have weighed in, in support of keeping the horses, and the governor says he’s going to.
A public comment meeting was held, and a public comment period has been opened for us to let the Park Service know how we feel about their plans. I sat through the public meeting and resisted commenting, but now the comment period is ending next week, so I thought I’d submit my two cents worth to Park Superintendent Angie Richman. She’s new here, only arriving on the scene last year, and she’s off to a rough start. She should have known better than to pick this kind of a fight before she even had a year under her belt.
I’m guessing she’s getting hundreds, maybe even thousands of comments, on her website. There’s still time if you want to comment. I doubt that she’ll read them all, but it is good to get on the record anyway. Numbers count.
I don’t know how high up the bureacratic ladder this decision will be made, but maybe someone who’s been at this a bit longer than Ms. Richman, who’s in her first superintendent’s job, will step in and use some common sense.
Anyway, here’s the letter I sent her today. Oh, and thanks to Chelsea for the photo.
Dear Superintendent Richman,
As you have probably learned from the outpouring of support for the wild horses in our national park, your attempt to get rid of the horses is unpopular, ill-conceived, and has been badly mismanaged.
You said when you arrived here just a year ago, “It is truly an honor to be selected as the superintendent of this gem of the National Park Service. I look forward to working closely with the dedicated park staff, partners, and engaging with the communities and public who celebrate the conservation legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, an iconic figure in the history of America, and enjoying the amazing resources of the park.”
Well, in less than a year, you’ve certainly “engaged with the public,” by proposing to eliminate the feral horse herd in our park.
You said you look forward to “enjoying the amazing resources of the park?” I don’t think so. Your first step here has been to get rid of one of those “amazing resources,” our wild horse herd.
As a former North Dakota Tourism Director, I can tell you that, if you asked visitors to our state what was the best thing they saw in North Dakota when they visited here, I’m pretty sure the most frequent answer you would get was “the horses in your national park.”
Ms. Richman, let me remind you of the mission of the National Park Service, which I feel is the most important of all of our government agencies:
“The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”
Read again, Ms.Richman: “natural and cultural resources.”
Natural AND Cultural.
Those horses are the epitome of a Cultural Resource in our park. Others have reminded you of the history of those horses, so I won’t go into that here, except to say that they are surely one of the most important cultural resources in our Bad Lands.
Those horses were here long before a small part of our Bad Lands became a national park. They roamed free and wild in a land they loved, probably for the better part of a century. The National Park Service put a fence around them. And now that they are captive, it proposes to get rid of them.
Might I suggest a better alternative might be to just open the fences, and let them run free again? I’ll bet they won’t go far. I’ll bet they’ll chose to stay in or near the only home they’ve ever known. Because not only do national park visitors enjoy those horses. Those horses enjoy national park visitors. They’ve come to say “hello” to me countless times in my visits to the park.
The horses are as much a part of our Bad Lands and our national park as the Little Missouri River, the Petrified Forest, Wind Canyon, and yes, the Peaceful Valley Ranch.
In fact, some of those horses may be descended from “livestock” on the Peaceful Valley Ranch before you put a fence around it as well. I think the ranch even once served as park headquarters.
I don’t know the history of the Peaceful Valley Ranch, but it is certainly representative of the ranching life Theodore Roosevelt knew, and you’ve shown your appreciation of that recently in the millions of dollars you’ve spent restoring and upgrading it. Thank you for that.
In his 1986 book “At The Open Margin,” the definitive history of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, published by the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association, David Harmon wrote, “A most valuable cultural resource (of TRNP) is the historic scene Roosevelt knew, part of which was the badlands landscape of the late 19th century. Should its care be called cultural resources management or natural resources management? . . . What to do with the subjects of feral horses and longhorn cattle?”
Harmon answered his question with this: “It will be seen that, in the final analysis, cultural resources management at Theodore Roosevelt is inseparable from–and sometimes synonymous with–management of natural resources and provision of visitor services.”
Theodore Roosevelt himself wrote, in his book “Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail” (page 33 in my copy): “. . . there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope on whose domain they have intruded.”
What park management today is proposing is just history repeating itself. We’ve been down this road before, long before you came here, Ms. Richman. When I first arrived in Dickinson in 1965, soon joining the staff of The Dickinson Press, the park was in the process of holding its “final roundup” of the horses, offering the horses to local ranchers to come and haul away.
I remember the stories in the paper about the horses and the roundup. In his book, Harmon described the roundup this way: “The methods of capture—running the horses to exhaustion with shifts of riders and then corralling them into the buffalo holding pen—were unpopular in themselves, and even more so because many local people still thought of the herd as wild.”
Like today. Wild.
The newspaper was pretty critical back then, reflecting local sentiment, The Press editor, Chuck McLaughlin, wrote that summer that the park should make a new plan for the horses, keeping and maintaining the horses which had not yet been captured.
The park superintendent, Art Sullivan, did that. It took a while, but the result is the herd we have today.
Let’s keep them.
5 thoughts on “What To Do About The Wild Horses”
It’s been on my bucket list to visit the park and the main reason I want to go is to see the wild horses. I have been a horse owner most all my life. I cannot imagine why anyone would think of doing away with this majestic herd. They need to trash that idea. Leave the horses alone.
I believe the relatively new TR Park Superintendent is just following orders Jim. She is new enough that she probably doesn’t have a very firm grasp on this situation and probably doesn’t have a personal opinion one way or another. It sounds like someone up in the hierarchy has made a decision and they are just going through the required process step by step now.
As a visitor to the park, the 3 things I was most excited to see were, 1) the wild horses. 2) the buffalo, and 3) the prairie dogs. The wild horses are an iconic and rare sight in this modern world. They connect us to our early pioneer days and the rugged west. It would be tragic to lose such a huge piece of living history.
Please save the TRNP horses. They are truly my favorite part of the Park.
And I believe that’s what Teddy would want. 🙏🏻
Love the horses