Horse Home Page
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.
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.
Q3: Does the park still have formal or informal partnerships with horse interest groups?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q13: What is a demonstration herd?
A13 original: 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.
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.
Q15: Why does terminology for animals differ between parks across NPS?
A15 original: 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 regarding existence of livestock on NPS lands. Horses and cattle are understood to be domesticated animals and their management under the CFR on park lands pertains directly to designation as livestock.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q23: Why is management of horses and longhorn cattle being evaluated in a combined Livestock Management Plan and Environmental Assessment?
A23 original: 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.
Q24: Will comments on the horse portal be included in the record of the new Livestock Plan?
A24: No. Comments on the Livestock Demonstration Herd Management Plan must be submitted to the PEPC project site or through postal correspondence to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, c/o Livestock Demonstration Herd Management Plan, P.O. Box 7, Medora, ND 58645.
Q25: If the population objective of the 1978 Environmental Assessment was 35-60 horses, why has the herd been allowed to grow to nearly 200 animals?
A25: Herd size has fluctuated over time due to logistical constraints for captures and inclusion of segments of the herd in contraception research. As of 2019 the park had stabilized and was reducing herd size through management (see FAQ 12). However, captures were halted in 2020 due to pandemic concerns, were diminished in 2021 because of logistical constraints, and were not conducted in 2022 while NPS engaged in processes for a Livestock Plan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q32: What National Environmental Policy Act tool will be used for this plan?
A32 original: 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.
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.
Q37: What is the park’s definition of livestock?
A37: Livestock means any species of animal that has been selectively bred by humans for domestic and agricultural purposes including but not limited to cattle, sheep, horses, burros, mules, goats and swine.
Q38: How does NPS define native and non-native species?
A38: Native species are defined as all species that have occurred, now occur, or may occur as a result of natural processes on lands designated as units of the national park system. Native species in a place are evolving in concert with each other. Exotic species are those species that occupy or could occupy park lands directly or indirectly as the result of deliberate or accidental human activities. Exotic species are also commonly referred to as nonnative, alien, or invasive species. Because an exotic species did not evolve in concert with the species native to the place, the exotic species is not a natural component of the natural ecosystem at that place. Genetically modified organisms exist solely due to human activities and therefore are managed as exotic species in parks.
Q39: Why would livestock be removed from NPS lands?
A39: Livestock are generally precluded from NPS lands by the Code of Federal Regulations (36 CFR § 2.60) except when authorized by federal statutory law, as required under a reservation of use rights arising from land acquisition, or when conducted as a necessary and integral part of a recreational activity or required in order to maintain a historic scene. The enabling legislation for Theodore Roosevelt National Park has no such provisions to require or allow livestock. Further, the NPS Organic Act (54 U.S.C. §§ 100101 et seq.) guides NPS management and prioritizes conservation of natural and cultural resources, including native ecosystems, of which livestock are not a part.
Q40: Why have some of the preliminary alternatives changed from those presented during Civic Engagement?
A40: As part of early planning stages, a wide range of preliminary alternatives are put forth to inspire thought and enable constructive feedback from stakeholders during Civic Engagement. The information from that process, along with a rigorous review of enabling legislation, NPS policy, statutory law, and current conditions of resources is used to further develop and refine the range of alternatives to be considered during this scoping period.
Q41: What is the “No Action Alternative”?
A41: The No Action Alternative describes no change from current management direction or level of management intensity, provides a benchmark for a decision maker to compare what would happen to the environment if current management were to continue, versus what would happen to the environment if one of the action alternatives were selected for implementation.
Q42: What would livestock removal mean for bison?
A42: Livestock compete with bison and other wildlife for resources and space. Removal of >200 horses and cattle would increase available forage, providing contingency resources during drought years and providing reserve capacity to maximize or alter bison herd sizes allowing for greater genetic resiliency. Absence of livestock would also enable reestablishment of natural grazing regimes to benefit native plant life and natural ecosystem function.
Q43: Are horses native to North America?
A43: Though equids evolved in North America, they dispersed to the Eastern Hemisphere and later became extinct in the North America (Western Hemisphere). When horses were later reintroduced from Europe and Asia to North America, the genetic makeup no longer represented the evolutionary linkage to those of original North America equids, as adaptation and human manipulation through selective breeding removed these linkages.
Q44: Is research needed to understand ancestry of the horse herd, and does the horse population represent unique genetic diversity?
A44: Multiple genetic studies have been completed on the horses in the park. These studies have demonstrated relationships to Quarter Horse, Paint, and Draft breeds, but no clear connection to Spanish breeds that are thought to have composed feral and Tribal herds during the 1700-1800s in many parts of the country. Herd genetics align with many common domestic breeds of horse that are represented globally.
Q45: Why are horses, bison, and elk managed to reduce numbers in the park?
A45: Horses and bison are confined by the park's perimeter fence with finite resources available to them. Elk seek refuge in the park from external hunting pressure. All three species reproduce and animals have been removed to mitigate resource damage from overpopulation on a fixed landscape. Horses compete for resources with wildlife, creating artificial pressure on park ecology and limiting resources available to native wildlife, including elk and bison.
Q46: Why is the park pursuing a Livestock Plan now?
A46: The Park has been grappling with the issue of livestock for years. The Park is embarking on this Plan now to address non-native horse and cattle herds within the park to better conserve the native species and natural prairie ecosystem functions.
Q47: Who are the subject matter experts involved in planning and who will make the final decision on the plan?
A47: The interdisciplinary team engaged in planning consists of NPS and contracted staff specializing in a spectrum of disciplines including but not limited to biology, veterinary medicine, animal behavior, wildlife biology, rangeland ecology, law enforcement, planning and policy, communications, archeology, and paleontology. Final recommendation on the plan will be made by the park Superintendent and final decision will be made by the Regional Director.
Q48: Can horses be transferred to ranches and sanctuaries?
A48: Yes, first opportunity to receive horses will be provided to Tribes. After tribal requests are satisfied, horses may be transferred to other eligible organizations or sold through public auctions to private individuals.
Q49: Why is the park not conducting in-person public meetings?
A49: During the COVID-19 pandemic NPS was required conduct public meetings virtually. We observed during that time that more people were able to participate virtually. We understood that many would want to attend the Livestock Plan meetings and hosted them virtually to accommodate all.
Q50: Where would horses be captured and handled as part of management operations?
A50: Horses would be captured and handled at the South Unit corral facility, as has been done since the 1990s. Captures may also occur in field locations, in which case animals would be trailered to the corral facility for handling.
Q51: Some wildlife (e.g., elk, deer) are farmed in domestic environments. Do these species fit the definition of livestock?
A51: Though some native wildlife has been farmed, representatives of these species that occur on park lands have not been subjected to such practices in their natural history and, therefore, are wildlife. Please see FAQ 38 for information on native species.
Q52: Do prairie dogs negatively affect the landscape at Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
A52: Prairie dogs are native wildlife that are considered a keystone species because of their foraging and burrowing behaviors that mix soils and promote native plant diversity, critical to healthy landscape ecology. They also serve as a prey base for a variety of other native wildlife.
Q53: Has GonaCon sterilized (made permanently infertile) park horses?
A53: Some animals treated with GonaCon did not return to fertility during the research project (2009 – 2020), ranging from four to seven years in time after receiving a booster vaccine. This duration may be considered long-term contraception, but it does not equate sterility. However, it is possible individual animals may never return to fertility. This question has not been fully answered. As of 2020, the park has worked to vaccinate all female horses as a management action to limit population growth. Continued fertility control in the herd today is the expected outcome of these scheduled vaccine boosters. We have no evidence that the population of park horses have been sterilized by GonaCon. Our experience indicates that booster vaccinations are required to maintain fertility control at the herd level and that the duration of contraceptive effect is shorter for some animals than others, as demonstrated by foals continuing to be born into the herd.
Q54: If conservation is a primary purpose of the park, then why are cultural sites, like the Elkhorn Ranch, also maintained?A54: NPS is charged with stewardship of both natural and cultural resources. Historic resources are preserved, and in some instances an intact cultural landscape is present. However, there is no requirement to maintain historic practices for these resources at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.