Unauthorized Livestock - Feral Horses Frequently Answered Questions

The Forest Service continues to plan for the necessary removal of a number of unauthorized livestock, commonly referred to as feral horses, on the Apache National Forest. This decision is a necessary step to ensure that the Apache National Forest is healthy and sustainable for years to come. These feral horses cause substantial problems for not only native plants and animals, which are being outcompeted for resources, but they also destroy watersheds and negatively impact ecosystems. They also pose an imminent threat to several federally listed and threatened species. These animals will be gathered using passive trapping techniques. Active gathering, which uses helicopters and physically moving animals, will not be used at this time.

In order to ensure that accurate information is shared, we have provided a list of commonly asked questions we have received from the public. This page will be updated as we receive more questions and we encourage you to refer to these answers as the trusted source of information. Information shared on non-official sites, non-Forest Service social media pages are not trusted sources of information and we highly encourage you and others to refer to this page. Any questions or comments on this topic can be sent to: Questions about Feral Horses or call 928-235-5780.

UPDATE: December, 2023

The Forest Service started selling feral horses at out-of-state sale barns instead of online sales because the local sales market has reached a “saturation point” as it was getting more challenging selling horses to the same small group of buyers, the majority of whom happened to be horse advocates. We started seeing issues with potential buyers unable to meet conditions established by the Forest and the contractor to demonstrate the ability to safely hold and care for feral horses. The Forest has confirmed reports of horses being purchased and subsequently given to people who had no prior experience dealing with ungentled animals. In a number of cases, frustrated owners have requested to return feral horses back to the contractor because they were not properly equipped to deal with them. In at least two separate cases, because the infrastructure on private property was inadequate to properly contain feral horses, some escaped onto adjacent national forest system lands. Fortunately, these escaped animals were subsequently recaptured. Additionally, our online sales were designed to sell small groups of up to 20 animals at the request of horse advocates. However, we found that this has slowed down and hampered our efforts to remove horses from the Apache National Forest in an expedited manner.  Sale barns are equipped to sell large numbers of livestock and we believe this is a better alternative for us moving forward, however, we will continue to make available for public sale small groups of feral horses to qualified buyers. These feral horses cause substantial problems for not only native plants and animals, which are being outcompeted for resources, but they also destroy watersheds and negatively impact ecosystems. They also pose an imminent threat to several federally listed and threatened species. 

Impounded Livestock

To claim livestock impounded from National Forest System land:

Before the owner will be permitted to redeem and regain possession of the unauthorized livestock, the owner must show proof of ownership and pay the Forest Service the expense incurred in the impounding, feeding, and care of the livestock. Further information in regard to the redemption of impounded livestock may be obtained from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Springerville, AZ through the Rangeland Program Manager at 928-333-6309.

Information on Sales (updated January 2, 2024)

  • Upcoming Sales: No sales are planned at this time. Please check back for information on future sales.
  • Update: Current information about future online sales, bidding guides, buyer requirements, Sale Terms, and registration information, is available at https://raillazyh.com/ 
    • The auction site is: https://raillazyh.com/.
    • For questions or assistance with registering please visit the auction site.
    • All auction terms on raillazyh.com are implemented at the request of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
  • Warning: All horses are unhandled and have had little human interaction. Prospective buyers are encouraged to have a knowledge of unhandled livestock prior to purchase.

News Releases

Documents

Common Questions and Answers

1) Are these horses part of the federally protected Heber Wild Horse herd?
 
No. These horses are not part of the Heber Wild Horse herd, nor are they associated with the Heber Wild Horse Territory. These animals are unauthorized livestock, commonly referred to as feral horses, that are causing resource damage on the Apache side of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
 
2) What is the difference between a Wild horse and a feral horse (unauthorized livestock)?
 
Wild horses are protected and managed under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WHBA), as amended. Forest Service regulations implementing the WHBA define wild horses and burros at 36 C.F.R. 222.60(b)(13) as “all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros and their progeny that have used lands of the National Forest System on or after December 15, 1971, or do hereafter use these lands as all or part of their habitat, but does not include any horse or burro introduced onto the National Forest System on or after December 15, 1972, by accident, negligence, or willful disregard of private ownership.” Any horse that is present on the National Forest that does not fall within the definition of a wild horse under the WHBA and is not otherwise authorized to be present on the National Forest would be considered unauthorized livestock or commonly referred as feral horses.
 
3) What will happen to the gathered horses?
 
The animals will be held for a minimum 5 days. If a member of the public has documentation of ownership they can work with the forest and the livestock board to claim animals as appropriate before or during impoundment. Any animals not claimed will be offered for public sale in accordance with Forest Service regulations at 36 C.F.R. 262.10(f).
 
4) How will the horses be gathered?
 
The horses will be humanely gathered via passive bait and trap sites. This safe and proven trap method causes minimal stress and injury to the horses.
 
5) What kind of damage are these horses causing?
 
These feral horses are causing excessive damage to forest resources, including harmful effects to the habitats of federally threatened and endangered species in the area as well as outcompeting native inhabitants of the Apache National Forest. Worsening drought conditions have exacerbated these problems.
 
6) How will the horses be transported from the Forest?
 
They will be safely and humanely transported in trailers pulled by trucks. 
 
7) Will there be any assurances made during the sale of these horses that they will not be sold to anyone that will then kill the horses?
 
Horse slaughter in the United States is illegal. That being said, we understand there is concern the horses may be slaughtered illegally or transported to areas where slaughter is legal. The Forest Service is looking at ways to avoid or discourage such an outcome to the extent possible within its legal authorities.   
 
8) What will we do with any horses that do not sell?
 
They will be taken to a long-term safe and humane holding facility, and we will work with interested parties until all horses are sold or transferred as allowed by 36 C.F.R. 262.10(f).
 
9) Can the horses be adopted?
 
Unfortunatley, No. Forest Service regulations require that feral horses be offered for public sale. If a minimum bid is not received, the horses may be sold through private sale. There is no adoption program in place for unauthorized livestock, commonly referred to as feral horses in this instance. 
 
10) What happens if someone is injured by an ungentled unauthorized horse while recreating on Forest Service lands? Is FS liable?
 
The Forest Service is not liable. As with any activity on the National Forest, there are inherent hazards in recreating on the national forest and the public assumes the risk of encountering any animal. We encourage members of the public to be prepared for all activities on National Forest system lands.
 
11) What is FS doing to keep recreationists and employees safe during these operations?
 
There are risks associated working with livestock, especially when ungentled. We have contracted with individuals experienced in handling ungentled, unauthorized livestock to manage operations. We will issue and enforce area closures for public safety during operations.
 
12) Has the USDA Forest Service granted a “100-day reprieve” that some horse advocate groups have been requesting?
 
No. The USDA Forest Service has spent a great deal of time over the last few years evaluating the situation and considering possible solutions. Now the Forest Service is focused on humanely and effectively gathering and removing these unauthorized horses. This process can take time and is dependent on many different logistic, biological, and seasonal considerations for the best outcome.
 
13) In areas where unauthorized horse concerns exist, is there permitted grazing for horses in aquatic and riparian threatened or endangered species habitat areas?
 
No, there is not. Within the areas of the Apache National Forest where unauthorized horse concerns exist, there is currently no permitted or authorized grazing in threatened or endangered aquatic or riparian species habitat by horses.
 
14) In areas where unauthorized horse concerns exist, is there permitted grazing for cattle in aquatic and riparian threatened or endangered species habitat areas?
 
Yes, authorized cattle grazing may occur to a limited extent within threatened or endangered riparian or aquatic species habitat, but only after such action has been analyzed through the process of the NEPA and ESA. Degradation of the grazing area is prevented through monitoring and assessment by the US Forest Service and the permittee.
 
15) How are unauthorized horses causing damage to the environment but permitted cattle are not?
 
All permitted livestock grazing on the Apache NF has been authorized through the completion of an Environmental Analysis (EA) and subsequent Allotment Management Plan (AMP). These EA/AMPs were completed by an interdisciplinary team of natural resource specialists in compliance with NEPA and the Endangered Species Act. They are designed to permit a level of livestock grazing that is considered sustainable for all natural resources within the area covered by each AMP. Unauthorized livestock grazing is unmanaged and is occurring year-round and at a level that is not sustainable.
 
16) I have heard that these feral horses will be taken off the landscape to allow more cattle grazing in the area. Is that true?
 
No, this is not true.
 
17) I have heard a rumor that 4000 cattle will be grazing this area. Is this true?
 
No, this is not true. The majority of the area where unauthorized livestock concerns exist are not within an active grazing allotment. There are approximately half a dozen summer seasonal grazing allotments within the current area of unauthorized livestock concern that are permitted to graze approximately 1,000 head of cattle combined and are often authorized even less dependent upon environmental conditions. Annual Operating Instructions for the active allotments are located here.
 
18) I have heard a rumor that these horses are legally ‘wildlife’ under a state or federal statute. Is this true?
 
No, horses are classified as livestock by the state of Arizona and the USDA. These horses are classified as unauthorized livestock similar to the 74 head of estray cattle that were gathered and impounded in the same general area between 2020 and 2021.

Forest Service Handbook 5309.11, Chapter 20, 23.11b reads: Unauthorized livestock include any cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, or equines not defined as a wild free-roaming horse or burro by Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, section 222.20(b)(13) (36 CFR 222.20(b)(13)), which are not authorized by permit or form FS-6500-89, Bill for Collection, to be upon the land on which the livestock are located and which are not related to use authorized by a grazing permit.

Additionally, 36 CFR 262.10 (Impoundment and disposal of unauthorized livestock) states: Unauthorized livestock or livestock in excess of those authorized by a grazing permit on the National Forest System, which are not removed therefrom within the periods prescribed by this regulation, may be impounded and disposed of by a forest officer as provided herein.
 
19) I have read that the USDA Forest Service does not have jurisdiction over unauthorized livestock, is this true?
 
The Forest Service is responsible for managing National Forest System lands. This includes authorizing uses of the forest and protecting forest resources from degradation. While states often have the primary authority and responsibility for livestock, including estray and unbranded livestock, the Forest Service retains authority to take actions necessary to protect the National Forests. Where a state has not taken action to remove unauthorized livestock, the Forest Service may take action as needed to protect forest lands and resources. In this instance, the Forest Service is further obligated under the Endangered Species Act to provide for the conservation of threatened and endangered species.
 
20) I have read on Facebook that the USDA Forest Service must comply with NEPA with regards to actions for removal of feral horses. Does this mean an Environmental Impact Statement needs to be published?
 
No. Federal agencies are not always obligated to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In some situations, an agency may comply with NEPA by preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) or relying on a Categorical Exclusion (CE) in authorizing an  action. The Forest Service followed the proper procedures in relying on a CE for this action. CEs applicable to Forest Service activities may be found at 7 CFR part 1b.3 and 36 CFR 220.6. It was determined that the project fit categories 7 CFR 1b.3(a)(5) and 36 CFR 220.6(d)(1). An interdisciplinary team reviewed the proposed action and determined there were no extraordinary circumstances to preclude use of the CE. Therefore, further analysis under NEPA was not required.