North Dakota’s 5 Native American tribes add their voices to calls for keeping wild horses in park
The chairman of United Tribes of North Dakota wrote to the superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park to urge the "continued preservation" of the park's wild horses and longhorn cattle.
FARGO — North Dakota’s five Native American tribes have joined the growing list of those calling upon Theodore Roosevelt National Park to maintain its herds of wild horses and longhorn cattle.
Jamie Azure, the chairman of United Tribes of North Dakota, has written to the superintendent of the park, who announced the park’s proposal to remove the herds, to express the tribes’ “general support for the continued preservation of wild horses and longhorns.”
In the letter to park superintendent Angie Richman dated Friday, Feb. 3, United Tribes endorsed the offer by Gov. Doug Burgum to collaborate with the park to keep the horses, a major draw at the state’s top tourist destination.
Azure, who also is chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. The other tribes represented by United Tribes include the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Spirit Lake Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.
The governor pledged to provide both state expertise and resources to “find a way to manage the wild horses in a manner and herd size that supports genetic diversity and protects the environmental integrity and capacity of the park for current and future generations of visitors.”
In a teleconference last week , Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Burgum, Attorney General Drew Wrigley and leaders of the North Dakota Legislature met with Richman and Charles Sims, director of the National Park Service, to urge officials to keep the wild horses in the park.
In a statement to The Forum, Richman said park officials look forward to “continued communication” as the park's planning process for the herds continues.
"The National Park Service is committed to working closely with local communities and elected officials on topics of mutual interest,” she said. “We look forward to our continued communication with all stakeholders and the public throughout the planning process."
Citing a need to improve the “resiliency and adaptability” of native species, including bison, elk and pronghorns, park officials announced their preferred alternative is the gradual removal of the wild horses, which now number 186 in the park’s south unit, and 12 longhorn cattle in the north unit.
The park’s plan to remove the horses has prompted an outpouring of calls to keep the herd, which Burgum said is vital in honoring the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, whose experiences as a rancher and hunter in the Little Missouri Badlands in the 1880s cannot be separated from the conservation legacy the park said it has a mission to preserve.
The wild horses were roaming the area at least since Roosevelt’s time, and some were fenced in by a perimeter fence built in the 1950s when the park reintroduced bison.
The origins of the horses running free in the park have been traced back to both stray ranch stock and Indian ponies — including horses confiscated by the army when Sitting Bul l and his followers ended their exile in Canada and surrendered at Fort Buford in 1881.
Villages of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes along the Missouri River were a major hub in a vast trade network involving tribes throughout the Great Plains and nearby regions, where thousands of horses were traded in the early 1800s.
Horses were integral to the economy and culture of nomadic tribes, including the Lakota and Yankton Sioux, who followed the migrating herds of buffalo that provided food, shelter and other needs.
After a public comment period that ended Jan. 31, the park is reviewing comments and will draft a proposed plan for managing the horses and longhorns, now managed under an environment assessment adopted in 1978.