Horse Incidents & Investigations

News Releases

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests’ Law Enforcement Officers Investigates Horse Deaths

Forest Service Law Enforcement
Collaborates on Investigations

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
Responds to Incidents

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
Investigators Confirm Horse Death

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
Urges Public to Report Horse Incidents

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
Continues to Investigate Horse Incidents

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests’ Law Enforcement Officers Actively Investigating Horse Deaths

Springerville, AZ – January 17, 2020 – Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Law Enforcement investigators confirmed the deaths of seven additional horses on the Black Mesa Ranger District, outside of the Heber Wild Horse Territory, bringing the total to fifteen deceased horses that were discovered between January 9 and January 14, 2020. Several horses died due to bullet wounds, and other carcasses were too badly decomposed to determine the cause of death.

The first twenty-four hours are crucial in collecting evidence, but unfortunately some of these investigations involved carcasses that had been exposed to extreme weather conditions over extended periods, and items of evidentiary value were limited. To reduce response time, law enforcement has developed advanced protocols so that equine experts and veterinarians can be deployed to the scene of these incidents more quickly. In addition, law enforcement is collaborating across jurisdictions, deploying additional patrol officers in critical locations, and utilizing all of the investigation tools that are available.

The tips that law enforcement receives are a critical component of these investigations, and the public is encouraged to continue to provide any information that may lead to an arrest. Investigators want to remind the public that while it’s not possible to respond to every tip received, the information provided is important and helpful and will be followed up on by law enforcement.   

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests’ ask the public to refrain from interfering with these active investigations as any such disturbances could jeopardize the critical work that law enforcement officers are conducting.  

If the public encounters an injured or deceased horse they are urged to contact the Black Mesa Ranger District at 928-535-7300 to report it immediately. Please pass along any tips by calling the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 1-800-78CRIME.   

News Release

 

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests’ Law Enforcement Officers Investigates Horse Deaths

Springerville, AZ – January 11, 2020 – The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Law Enforcement investigators confirmed the discovery of eight deceased horses on the Black Mesa Ranger District outside of the Heber Wild Horse Territory on January 10, 2020.

The Forest Service law enforcement and equine experts, in partnership with the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, are investigating the deaths of the horses. Preliminary information indicates the horses’ deaths were caused by gunshot wounds. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests’ ask the public to remain patient and to avoid the area during the ongoing investigation.

If the public encounters an injured or deceased horse, please contact the Black Mesa Ranger District at 928-535-7300 to report it immediately.

The 16 U.S. Code § 1338 criminal provisions state “Any person who maliciously causes the death or harassment of any wild free-roaming horse or burro shall be subject to a fine of not more than $2,000, or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.”

“USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.”

News Release PDF

Forest Service Law Enforcement Collaborates on Investigations into Horse Deaths

Springerville, AZ – October 17, 2019 – Members of Law Enforcement and Investigations (LE&I) from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNFs), along with Navajo and Coconino County Sheriff’s Offices recently investigated three separate incidents involving deceased horses.

On September 18, one horse was found and confirmed deceased on the Sitgreaves National Forest. Forest Service LE&I and a necropsy expert conducted an investigation. This investigation is ongoing.

On September 30, two domestic deceased horses were discovered on Capps Ranch Road on the Sitgreaves National Forest. While the incident occurred on National Forest System land, the horses were private property of the respective horse owner, therefore, State agencies, Arizona Department of Agriculture (Arizona Livestock) and the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) performed the investigation.

On October 4, one deceased horse was found on the ASNFs that appeared to have been killed by a predator, such as a mountain lion or a bear. A Forest Service equine specialist and a necropsy expert conducted the investigation. This investigation is ongoing.

On October 11, the NCSO arrested a suspect in the domestic horse shootings and is currently sharing information with Forest Service LE&I. Forest Service LE&I is diligently working through the investigative process to determine or rule out any possible connections to other incidents.

The ASNFs values our law enforcement partnerships with the Navajo and Coconino County Sheriff’s offices, and Arizona Game and Fish. Any person who maliciously causes the death or harassment of any wild free-roaming horse or burro shall be subject to a fine of not more than $2,000, or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.

Please pass all tips to the NCSO tip line at 1-800-78CRIME. If the public encounters an injured or deceased horse they are urged to contact the Black Mesa Ranger District at 928-535-7300 to report it immediately.

“USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.”

News Release PDF

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Responds to Incidents

May 2, 2019 – Since October 2018 the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNFs) has experienced the tragic loss of 19 horses. We share the public’s sadness and concern and are committed to investigating these unfortunate incidents in order to bring perpetrators to justice. Any cruelty to animals on public lands is disheartening and has been a cause for alarm in the nearby communities of Heber-Overgaard. Rumors about possible suspects, gossip about motives, and general misinformation quickly spread throughout social media.

To clear the air, and to understand how the ASNFs responded to these senseless crimes, we feel it is essential to detail the investigative process that was followed.
When USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement & Investigations (LEI) Officers were advised of these criminal incidents they responded to the scene, and when it was determined that horses had died due to a cause other than natural causes, their investigative process began immediately. Each scene was thoroughly investigated, any witnesses were interviewed, evidence was collected, and reports were generated and brought to the attention of the Assistant U.S. Attorney who represents the prosecution in federal court proceedings.

The investigations on the ASNFs were conducted with the expectation that they will be presented in federal court. It is important to note that Forest Service LEI Officers must adhere to policy and procedures of the Department of Justice for the handling and management of evidence, and in these incidents, the collection of evidence was critical. Since LEI Officers are not trained necropsy experts, the ASNFs immediately deployed an equine team to conduct necropsies, and to perform post-mortem analysis and confirm the cause of death. Drones were also utilized to monitor the large area. Unfortunately, some of these investigations involved carcasses that had been exposed to extreme weather conditions over extended periods, and items of evidentiary value were limited. The cause of death in these instances remains undetermined.

In response to the growing number of these incidents, patrols in and around the area were increased through partnerships with Arizona Game and Fish, the Navajo and Coconino Sheriff’s offices. Lines of communications were opened between cooperators and processes improved with internal partners. LEI Officers uphold Federal laws and regulations that protect natural resources, agency employees and the public. Their investigations are based on substantial evidence and factual information, not rumor or conjecture, and they strive to reach a burden of proof in each case for potential use in federal court. The 16 U.S. Code § 1338 criminal provisions state “Any person who maliciously causes the death or harassment of any wild free-roaming horse or burro shall be subject to a fine of not more than $2,000, or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.”

If the public encounters an injured or deceased horse, they are urged to contact the Black Mesa Ranger District at 928-535-7300 to report it immediately. The public is asked to pass along all tips to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 1-800-78CRIME.

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Investigators Confirm Horse Death

April 24, 2019 – Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNFs) Law Enforcement investigators confirmed that one horse was found deceased Friday, April 19, 2019. Forest Service personnel were dispatched to the scene. A contracted necropsy expert was also called to the scene to conduct an investigation. Three shell casings were recovered from the location.

The ASNFs continue to collaborate on these investigations through increased patrols, along with assistance from the Navajo County and Coconino County Sheriff’s Offices.

At this time, our investigations indicate that since Oct, 2018 there have been 19 documented cases of deceased horses on the ASNFs. Of the deceased horses, 11 have evidence of gunshot wounds, 6 were severely decomposed and the cause of death remains undetermined, 1 died after getting stuck in a cattle-guard, and 1 died of blunt force trauma usually associated with a motor vehicle collision.

The series of horse deaths in the vicinity of the Heber Wild Horse Territory is an issue we are taking seriously and diligently investigating. Furthermore, the ASNFs is committed to our mission for managing horses, and any senseless cruelty to animals on public lands is sad and disheartening.

It is important to point out that only law enforcement officers and members of their team are authorized to perform investigations. If the public encounters an injured or deceased horse they are urged to contact the Black Mesa Ranger District at 928-535-7300 to report it immediately. The public is asked to pass along all tips to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 1-800-78CRIME.

“USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.”

News Release PDF

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Urges Public to Report Horse Incidents

April 16, 2019 – After receiving a report last week of a deceased horse, it was confirmed by Forest Law Enforcement to be located on forest road 51, outside of the Heber Wild Horse Territory. Law Enforcement Investigators were called to the scene, unfortunately because the Forest Service was not notified in a timely manner, the scene was contaminated and the remains were too decomposed for necropsy. The date and cause of death are unknown. There are a variety of factors that may lead to free-roaming horse deaths, which can include accidents, old age, sickness, disease, predation, and man caused (accidental and intentional).

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests is committed to our mission to manage horses and to fully investigate their deaths when these unfortunate incidents occur.

It is important to point out that only law enforcement officers and members of their team are authorized to perform investigations. If the public encounters an injured or deceased horse they are urged to contact the Black Mesa Ranger District at 928-535-7300 to report it immediately. The public should never attempt to conduct an investigation, or collect evidence, or do anything to contaminate the scene in any way. Doing so will make any evidence collected by the public inadmissible or usable in an investigation.

Forest Service law enforcement, along with Navajo County and Coconino County Sheriff’s Offices continue to investigate the horse deaths from earlier this year. The public is asked to pass along all tips to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 1-800-78CRIME.

“USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.”

News Release PDF

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Continues to Investigate Horse Incidents

Feb 11, 2019 - Over the past months, several deceased horses have been discovered in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNFs). Forest Service law enforcement and equine experts continue ongoing investigations into the deaths of these horses.

Since Oct, 2018, 16 deceased horses have been located on the ASNFs Black Mesa Ranger District. Of the 16 deceased horses, 12 were located outside of the Heber Wild Horse Territory (HWHT) near Forest Roads 144, 146, and 50. On Feb 7, 4 additional deceased horses were discovered inside of the HWHT near 300 RD.

There are a variety of factors that may lead to horse deaths, which can include accidents, natural causes, predation, and shootings. When it is determined that a horse’s death was due to a gunshot wound, the investigation can be complex, as the burden of proof must be rock solid for potential use in court. Our law enforcement officers strive to reach that burden of proof, and that is why these investigations are often lengthy and complex. At this time, our investigations appear to indicate that 10 of the deceased horses have evidence of gunshot wounds, 5 were severely decomposed and the cause of death remains undetermined, and 1 died of blunt force trauma usually associated with a motor vehicle collision.

Forest Service law enforcement is employing additional resources to help with these ongoing investigations. This includes working with both the Navajo County and Coconino County Sheriff’s Offices, deploying an additional team to conduct necropsies, utilizing drones to monitor the large area, increasing the amount of law enforcement officers in the area, and encouraging local and statewide media outlets to provide accurate information and an avenue for the public to submit any tips. We ask the public to pass along all tips to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office tip line, 1-800-78CRIME.

The Forest Service has been in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in order to quickly bring any potential perpetrators to justice. We are continuing our faceted investigation and encourage the public to provide any tips or additional information.

“USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.”

News Release PDF

 





https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/asnf/landmanagement/resourcemanagement/?cid=FSEPRD639638