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Advocates: Forest Service trapping endangers wild horses at height of foaling season

Wild horses near the town of Heber in eastern Arizona.
FR Law Group
Wild horses near the town of Heber in eastern Arizona.

The U.S. Forest Service is currently trapping wild horses in eastern Arizona for an eventual online auction. It comes at the height of foaling season and advocates worry it could put the animals in danger.

Volunteers say they witnessed a contractor setting up trapping equipment and baiting it with salt blocks last weekend on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. The Alpine Wild Horse Advocates and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group say it comes as horses are being born in the forest, and if the foals are rounded up they may not survive transport to a holding area. They’ve posted a video online that purports to show the trapping equipment. The advocates want officials to instead implement fertility controls to manage the population. They say the herd, estimated at about 370, is historic and may have descended from horses brought to the Americas by conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540.

The Forest Service, however, says the horses are unauthorized, feral animals that trample vegetation and negatively impact ecosystems, and are not federally protected under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. In addition, a spokesperson says the contractor is using a passive trapping technique that avoids snaring mares with new foals.

In recent years, dozens of wild horses have been illegally shot to death in the area. Despite investigations into the killings, the crimes have gone unsolved.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.