Heber Wild Horse Territory

Horses Horses Horses Horses Horses Horses Horses

What’s Happening with the Heber Wild Horse Territory Planning Process?

The Forest Service has prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) and draft territory management plan (TMP) for the Heber Wild Horse Territory Management Plan Project.

An official comment period was held (March 23-April 22 2021).  Public comments that were received during this official comment period are being considered and addressed as appropriate. No further official public comment periods will be offered for this project.

The EA, FONSI and draft decision notice are subject to the predecisional administrative review process (objection process) pursuant to 36 CFR 218, subparts A and B. Objections will only be accepted from those who have previously submitted substantive written comments regarding during an official comment period for this project in accordance with 36 CFR 218.25(a)(3). Issues raised in objections must be based on previously submitted, timely, specifically written comments regarding this proposed project unless based on new information arising after the designated comment opportunities.

A draft decision notice and finding of no significant impacts (FONSI) will be prepared and circulated. If any changes to the draft EA are warranted, a final version will be prepared and provided with the draft decision notice. We are anticipating having this ready in late Fall 2021. We will notify those that previously commented of their opportunity to object when the FONSI and draft decision notice are prepared.

Following the objection period, a final decision notice will be issued. The Final Territory Management Plan will be issued concurrently based on that final decision.

Purpose and Need for the Project

The Heber Wild Horse Territory is located in Navajo and Coconino Counties in the Black Canyon area, southwest of the town of Heber, Arizona. The purpose of this project is to develop a territory management plan for wild horse management actions within the Heber Wild Horse Territory, consistent with laws, regulations, and the Forest Plan.

The Heber Wild Horse Territory does not currently have an approved Territory Management Plan (TMP). A TMP with an appropriate management level is required by law and Forest Plan. The purpose of the project is to develop and implement a territory management plan for the Heber Wild Horse Territory.

We conducted an in-depth analysis to determine the appropriate management level for the wild horse herd. That analysis is detailed in the Proposed Appropriate Management Level Determination available in the online project plan. In this analysis, we determined an appropriate management level of 50 to 104 horses would maintain a self-sustaining population of healthy horses within the designated territory, in a thriving natural ecological balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat.

Our analysis has identified that 104 horses is the upper limit of horses which results in a thriving natural ecological balance and avoids deterioration of the range. Thus, any exceedance of that number has the potential to disrupt that balance and lead to deterioration of the range. In 2017, the most recent census flight, the estimated horse population was 270 to 420. The annual growth rate for the herd is estimated to be about twenty percent. At this rate, the estimated population could be nearly ten times higher than the proposed upper limit by 2022.

Population management actions are needed to maintain a healthy horse herd while also maintaining a thriving natural ecological balance. Without management, the wild horse population would continue to grow unchecked with potential adverse impacts to the population and its surrounding habitat.

Proposed Action

Proposed actions are analyzed in the EA and have been incorporated into a Draft Territory Management Plan (TMP). The TMP also includes specifics for implementing the proposed action including standard operating procedures and an annual operating plan.

The Draft Territory Management Plan will be finalized based on which actions are authorized in the final decision notice for this project. Once authorized, the Territory Management Plan can be implemented immediately.

The proposed action proposes the following:

  • Establishes the appropriate management level of 50-104 horses to maintain a thriving natural ecological balance
  • Establishes Population Control Techniques
    • Identifies criteria to be considered when determining whether excess wild horses are present and require removal.
    • Describes methods to be used to gather and remove excess wild horses.
    • Describes fertility reduction methods that may be implemented to slow herd growth rates and reduce the number of excess animals which must be removed over time.
  • Establishes an adaptive management strategy which identifies potential management actions based on monitoring results
    • Identifies monitoring to be used and identifies thresholds for determining when management actions may be necessary
    • Identifies potential management actions that may be implemented based on monitoring results
  • Identifies design criteria to be used for resource protection measures