SPRINGERVILLE — On Friday, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests announced the beginning of a 30-day public comment period on the Draft Proposed Action for the Heber Wild Horse Territory (HWHT) Management Plan. This means the Forest Service is actively seeking public input before making “the final selection of the management strategy” for the Heber Wild Horses herd.
This action is significant because it is the long-awaited result of the 2007 litigation initiated by horse advocates to halt a proposed round-up of horses on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. The legal action included a stipulation that the Forest Service “collaboratively engage the public to complete a territory management plan for the Heber Wild Horse Territory,” according to an earlier press release from the US Forest Service.
This is the first draft of the required Heber Wild Horse Territory management plan. The comment period “ … provides an opportunity for the US Forest Service to introduce and explain the approach being considered and solicit input,” reads the press release.
The Forest Service’s proposal “will guide future management of the horses and their habitat, including setting an appropriate management level of wild free-roaming horses for the territory,” also according to the release.
What happens next?
At the end of the 30 day comment period, the Forest Service will review the comments and “usher the proposed action forward collaboratively” with stakeholders, many of which were involved in the 2017-2018 collaborative work process facilitated by Southwest Decision Resources and Arizona State University School of Sustainability.
Stakeholders include wild horse advocates, ranchers, wildlife managers, equine recreation professionals, equine training professionals, range science and veterinary medicine experts, Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Arizona Department of Agriculture.
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests’ Supervisor, Steve Best, then “makes the final selection of a management strategy for the Heber wild free-roaming horse herd and habitat.”