Frequently Asked Questions About Horses

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Note: FAQ will be updated with new answers identified by date below original answers for each question to maintain a record of changes for site user reference.
 

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Planning

Q5: When will a new horse management plan be completed?

A5 original: The NPS will be initiating a new horse management planning process during fall of 2021. Updates on timelines will be posted on the portal.

A5 updated November 4, 2022: The NPS will conduct public scoping for the Livestock Plan during winter of 2022/2023. Scoping is “an early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action”

Q6: Will I be able to participate in management plan development?

A6: The National Park Service has a formal process for the development of management plans and their corresponding environmental impact assessments. The process includes opportunities for public input and review. Once the official management plan development and environmental assessment process has been initiated, the National Park Service will invite members of the public to attend scoping meetings and to share official public comments on the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment website. To learn more about this process please visit https://parkplanning.nps.gov/links.cfm. Outside of the formal public comment process, all communication pertaining to horse management will continue to be addressed through the horse communication portal to maintain transparency, information consistency, and equitability.

Q23: Why is management of horses and longhorn cattle being evaluated in a combined Livestock Management Plan and Environmental Assessment?

A23: Both species are domestic livestock with populations maintained on NPS lands to represent a cultural scene. These animals are authorized under the same policy for the same purpose of enhancing visitor experience, and management of both must be equally balanced with resource stewardship priorities of NPS.

Q28: Will the park pursue alternative options for transferring horses to private ownership through partnership, with training challenges and other programs to help ensure long-term homes for animals?

A28: Transfer of animals through partnerships has been explored in the past. Experience gained from those interactions will be evaluated as part of the planning process.

Q30: Why would the park consider reducing horse herd size?

A30: Herd size and a range of other factors will be assessed as part of the planning process, in context of landscape ecology, available resources, and visitor experience.

Q32: What National Environmental Policy Act tool will be used for this management plan, and when will the scoping period begin?

A32: We are in the pre-NEPA stage of planning, but it is anticipated that an Environmental Assessment (EA) will be completed for this management plan. Based on current management, existing conditions, and previous studies, the range of management alternatives proposed are not anticipated to be significant, therefore an environmental assessment is the appropriate NEPA pathway. If in the process of analysis, it is determined that there is the potential for significant impacts which cannot be mitigated, then an environmental impact statement would be prepared. Public scoping is planned for summer 2022. A third opportunity to comment will be when the draft EA is issued for formal public comment.

Q33: Will visitor experience be considered in development of the new Management Plan?

A33: Yes, visitor experience will be evaluated along with a range of other factors in the development of the plan and associated Environmental Assessment.

Communications

Q1: Will I be able to obtain information (births, deaths, names, etc.) from the park on individual horses?

A1: Though the park has volunteered a wide variety of information on individual horses in the past, maintaining these details is not necessary for population level management, and the park will not be doing so in the future unless it is necessary as part of a research study or management action. In addition, the park will not be providing names for horses in the future, unless they are being adopted out, as naming helps in the adoption process.

Q2: Who can represent the park when speaking about horse management?

A2: Only authorized NPS employees may represent the NPS when speaking about horse management. The Park will use this portal to share horse management information with the public. The Park has no control of non-NPS social media or other web content published by private individuals.

Q4: Why does the park no longer respond to individual emails about horses?

A4: To ensure that no one is left out of communications, the park now uses the website to maintain a horse communication portal. These FAQs will be regularly updated to provide information about park horse management actions and answer commonly asked questions about horse management at Theodore Roosevelt NP.

Q7: How often is the FAQ page updated?

A7: The FAQ will be updated as soon as possible when questions are received through the active link on the portal. Horse management is only a small portion of the park’s overall management and visitor services responsibilities. Staff update the FAQ as time allows.

Q24: Will comments on the horse portal be included in the record of the new Livestock Demonstration Herd Management Plan?

A24: No. Comments on the Livestock Demonstration Herd Management Plan must be submitted to the PEPC project site (see Q/A 6 above) or through postal correspondence to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, c/o Livestock Demonstration Herd Management Plan, P.O. Box 7, Medora, ND 58645.

Policy

Q8: Why are Theodore Roosevelt National Park horses managed differently than horses managed by the Bureau of Land Management?

A8: Theodore Roosevelt National Park horses are maintained as a demonstration herd to represent a historic scene reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands of North Dakota. Livestock, including horses, is allowed on NPS lands to present a cultural scene and are managed per 36 CFR § 2.60 (a) (3). The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act only applies to animals on US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

Q13: What is a demonstration herd?

A13: A demonstration herd is defined by the National Park Service as an administrative use of non-native livestock that maintains a cultural scene. The horse demonstration herd at Theodore Roosevelt NP depicts the open-range, cattle ranching landscape that would have been present when Theodore Roosevelt lived in western North Dakota.

Q15: Why does terminology for animals differ between parks across NPS?

A15: Though park units may differ in their description of animals for public communications and interpretation purposes, all parks generally adhere to the same policies governing their management service-wide. The term “demonstration herd” is a neutral title that reflects federal regulations allowing the existence of livestock on NPS lands to maintain a historic scene. Horses and cattle are understood by NPS to be domesticated animals and their management under the CFR on park lands pertains directly to designation as livestock.

Q22: Why are horses managed differently between NPS units?

A22: Each park has unique enabling legislation pertaining to management of resources within their boundaries. Some parks are subject to additional legislation passed after the establishment of the park, including management of nonnative animals.

Management

Q9: Are you planning to capture or donate any horses in 2022?

A9: It is not our intention to round-up or remove any horse or cattle from the park in 2022.

Q10: Why are animals targeted opportunistically for capture, instead of using either selective or random techniques that might avoid overrepresentation of some bands?

A10: At time of capture, park staff target animals based on location and band behavior presenting the best scenarios to ensure safety of staff and to provide optimal care of animals. These tenets hold priority over other management objectives.

Q11: Could introduction of new animals improve genetic health of the herd?

A11: This topic will be considered as part of the process for development of a new management plan.

Q12: Why are 4-month-old animals captured?

A12: Currently, we work to remove a number of horses that provides for appropriate population control, based on the number of horses born into the herd over the previous year. To accomplish this goal, we sometimes have to capture younger animals that are physiologically able to be weaned from the mare.

Q18: What are the Park’s goals for number of horses and herd demographics at THRO?

A18: According to the 1978 Environmental Assessment document, the current population goal for the demonstration herd is 35-60 head. The goal for number of horses and herd demographics may be reevaluated, according to current research, during the development of a new management plan.

Q20. Why do horses that were given contraceptives appear to have abscesses?

A20: GonaCon is what is called an immunocontraceptive vaccine. This means that when an animal is injected with GonaCon, the vaccine stimulates the body to produce antibodies. These antibodies then attach themselves to the hormone that makes an animal’s body produce estrogen and progesterone. This immunoresponse can lead to the formation of a temporary and harmless area of swelling, and sometimes drainage, at the injection site.

Q21: If mares were treated with contraceptives in 2020, why are there so many foals being born in 2021?

A21: The effects of the contraceptive do not begin until the second year after the injection. Research showed that the foaling rate for treated mares declined the second year after the initial vaccine and typically returned to normal levels within five years. The vaccine was shown to be safe for pregnant mares, with no negative effects seen during the foaling or breeding season.

Q26: Are the horses branded, tagged, or otherwise marked?

A26: Some horses were marked with RFID microchips (embedded subcutaneously) when handled at prior roundups. They are not currently marked in any other way. NPS registers the Elkhorn brand but has not applied it to park livestock. Use of the Elkhorn brand, with freeze branding techniques for horses, will be evaluated in a new management planning process.

Q27: Are sick or injured horses euthanized?

A27: Sick or seriously injured horses are typically not euthanized, unless their condition has been caused by human actions (e.g., vehicle impact) or they present a human health and safety problem. Euthanasia techniques will be evaluated in a new management planning process.

Q29: How is contraception currently applied differently between cattle and horses?

A29: Horses are currently treated with the immunocontraceptive GonaCon Equine , delivered by darts or hand injections. Animals typically become fertile again within a few years, in the absence of additional injections. The cattle currently on park lands are all steers, which were castrated prior to NPS ownership. Therefore, existing cattle are no longer capable of reproducing. A range of fertility control options and herd management goals will be explored for both horses and cattle during the planning process.

Q31: Will horses be administered contraceptives during 2022?

A31: Yes, the immunocontraceptive GonaCon Equine will continue to be used to limit growth of the herd during the management planning process.

Q34: Do horses occur in Designated Wilderness at Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

A34: The horses have not been excluded from Designated Wilderness and occasionally occur there.

Q35: Is foal mortality higher this year than usual?

A35: During recent years, foal mortality has ranged 3 – 9 animals. This year, a loss of five foals is not beyond the normal range of variation and not unexpected, given the multiple potential causes of mortality for young horses in the park.

Q36: When did the contraception research project end?

A36: Field research ended in 2020. The park continues to track contraceptive efficacy for management purposes.

Partnership

Q3: Does the park still have formal or informal partnerships with horse interest groups?

A3: No.

Q14: How can I adopt a horse?

A14: Horses are sold through internet auctions by the General Services Administration (GSA) at https://gsaauctions.gov once or twice a year, as needed to maintain the herd numbers. The availability of horses for sale is announced on the park website. Interested parties may then navigate to the GSA site, create an account, and compete in the auctions. Interested parties will need to sign a statement of intent form requiring that animals will be housed in a secure environment and that their health will be maintained, and that animals will not be purchased for the purpose of slaughter. Money received from the auction of horses goes to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Q16: Does the park provide genetic and pedigree information to buyers of park horses?

A16: In the past, the park partnered with a non-profit organization to obtain genetic information during horse capture operations. The genetic information was used by the partner to generate pedigrees as part of their non-profit organization business plan and by the park to inform population-level genetics. This partnership has been dissolved. The park currently manages the horse herd at the population level and does not maintain pedigrees or release genetic information on horses.

Q17: Can individuals or businesses help fund and appoint third-parties as contractors to research and create management plans?

A17: The National Park Service has a formal contracting process that ensures ethical and fair consideration of all third-party contractors and acquisitions. Outside entities may not influence these federal transactions.

Q19: Will any horses be donated to tribes in the future?

A19: This topic will be considered as part of the process for development of a new management plan.
 

Last updated: November 9, 2022

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