Livestock in Mesa Verde National Park

A fenced field showing grasses on one side and grazed area on the other.
Evidence of the effect of livestock grazing just outside the boundary of Mesa Verde National Park.

Mesa Verde National Park (MVNP) was established in 1906 to preserve and protect the material culture of prehistoric humans that occupied the Mesa Verde cuesta. The prehistoric architecture, artifacts and landscapes the park is mandated to preserve are primarily associated with Ancestral Pueblo culture that occupied Mesa Verde and the Four Corners region from 500 to 1300 CE. This culture pre-dates the arrival of Europeans and the livestock they brought with them to the American Southwest, which includes domesticated cattle, sheep, goats, horses, burros and swine. Because of the park’s enabling legislation, the park must follow existing policy and regulations which means that all livestock use (such as cattle and horses) within the park is prohibited.

In 1906, there was no boundary fencing to exclude livestock from entering the park and by 1908 large numbers of livestock had entered the park, particularly during the summer grazing season. On March 19, 1908, the Secretary of the Interior issued the first regulations specifically for MVNP to prohibit livestock use within the park. Current National Park Service (NPS) Management Policies and 36 C.F.R. 2.60 also prohibit livestock use in MVNP. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (P.L. 92-195), which gave special status to all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros in designated management areas, specifically excluded NPS lands. Because of this exclusion, the Act cannot be applied to horses within the boundary of the park.

Although attempts have been made to install fencing along the park boundary, previous fence designs and topography of the area make fence maintenance a challenge. Livestock continue to migrate in and out of the park from adjacent land through gaps in the boundary fence. Until the mid to late 1990s, the park actively maintained the boundary fences and removed most trespass livestock in the park. Despite these efforts, the number of livestock, particularly horses, trespassing in the park has grown in the past 20 years.

The park began planning and consultation efforts to address livestock in 2013, to carefully look at the effects of alternative actions needed to prevent livestock from entering the park and to remove the livestock currently within the park. In October 2015, the park initiated internal scoping for a proposed action to remove livestock. Public scoping of the proposed action occurred in December 2015 and January 2016. An environmental assessment was also initiated and was released for public comments in April 2018.

On March 12, 2019, after considering the environmental assessment and public, tribal, and agency comments, the NPS Acting Intermountain Regional Director Kate Hammond signed a Finding of No Significant Impact. The approved action, which complies with NPS policy and regulations, will capture and remove trespass livestock in a two-phased approach through a short-term (1 to 2 years) and long-term removal process, followed by transferal of unclaimed livestock by public or private sale, auction, adoption, or donation on-site, with the NPS issuing a bill of sale. Boundary fence replacement and maintenance will be prioritized to maximize livestock exclusion. MVNP will work with interested livestock advocacy groups during the capture and adoption process when and where appropriate.

The park is finalizing details towards implementing this phased plan. For instance, as of April 2019 plans are in progress to work with the Colorado Chapter of the National Mustang Association for relocation of unbranded and unclaimed horses through adoption.

More information about this project, including the alternative plans and environment assessment can be found at:

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why can’t the National Park Service allow livestock to remain in the park?

Mesa Verde National Park was established to preserve and protect the prehistoric architecture, artifacts and landscapes associated with the Ancestral Pueblo culture that occupied Mesa Verde and the Four Corners area. Mesa Verde National Park does not have the legal authority to allow livestock use within the park. Livestock use is also inconsistent with park’s mission to preserve the Ancestral Pueblo culture. The special status given to all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on western public land by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (P.L. 92-195) does not apply to the National Park Service, only to lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service.

How does the National Park Service plan to remove livestock from within the park?

Mesa Verde National Park conducted an environmental assessment to address livestock trespass within the park. Approximately a dozen cattle and 60 to 80 horses roam within the park. The action approved in the Finding of No Significant Impact is a phased approach to remove up to 50 percent of livestock in the first year, 80 percent by the end of the second year, and 100 percent by the end of the fifth year. Primary capture methods employed during the first two years of removal would include baited pen trapping, horse-back wrangler roundups including use of chemical sedation for cattle, or restraint, such as with lariats or ropes. If removal targets are not substantially meet by the end of Year Two, the National Park Service could consider use of helicopter roundups, chemical immobilization and lethal reduction with a firearm to remove remaining livestock. PZP or birth control were not considered as an alternative since it is typically used as a tool for long-term herd management. The approved action will also improve boundary fencing to reduce livestock movement/reentry into the park that would occur over the next ten years.

What will happen to the livestock once they are captured?

Captured livestock inside the park will be held at a holding facility within the park for up to 30 days. The National Park Service is exploring options to address unclaimed and unbranded animals, which may include a public or private sale, auction, adoption, or a donation on-site.
The National Park Service will coordinate with the Colorado Brand Commission and local brand inspectors, and will follow the most humane methods as defined by the American Veterinarian Medical Association and protocols adapted from the Bureau of Land Management.
Capture procedures will be also approved by a National Park Service veterinarian and operations will be overseen by a veterinarian as necessary.

The park continues to meet with potential partners such as the Colorado Chapter of the National Mustang Association, Colorado State Brand Commission and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to discuss their involvement. Specifically, we will coordinate on how to humanely remove livestock from the park and identify potential homes for captured, unclaimed livestock.

Last updated: January 18, 2020

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PO Box 8
Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330



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