Wild Horses in Mesa Verde National Park – Opportunity for Change

Wild Horses have wandered the trails of Mesa Verde National Park for over 100 years according to some folks in the area. Some claim the horses have strayed from the adjoining Ute Mountain tribal lands although the tribe claims no ownership.  Wild horses like most wildlife do not recognize ownership boundaries.   Now, Mesa Verde National Park has decided to develop a Management Plan to control the horse population within park.

Mesa Verde Horses, by Phil Morich

In a scoping letter asking for public comment, the park states, “There are currently between 100-150 trespass horses (trespass and feral are terms used when horse ownership is unknown)  in and on the border of the park.  Park staff has documented severe impacts to archaeological sites, native vegetation, and soils.  Trespass livestock has also been documented out-competing native wildlife for water sources and damaging park facilities.  There have also been dangerous confrontations reported between trespass livestock and park staff and visitors.”

I am curious as to why, all of a sudden the Park Service feels a need to manage these horses who have been around so long.  Could it be politically driven? Do they want the horses removed before Secretary of Interior Salazar steps down, and they might (hopefully) have to deal with a more environmentally friendly Secretary of Interior?

I wonder why there has not been an attempt to better protect valuable, historical archaeological sites not only from horses but also from cattle, elk, deer, bears and the most destructive species of all, the human? Mesa Verde hosted 572,000 visitors in 2011. I why the park service has not taken steps to secure their boundaries to safeguard  archaeological treasures.

As to the threat of horses confronting visitors and staff, according to Paul Morey, Wildlife Biologist at Mesa Verde,  ”the majority of the horses in the park are already in areas that are not populated by visitors or staff.”  Therefore the threat to humans should be minimal.  The park is also home to  bears, bobcats, coyotes and  rattlesnakes who are not being considered for removal.

In an interview with the Farmington Daily Times, a park employee was quoted as saying,  “an employee was driving in the park when she rounded a curve and hit a horse totaling the vehicle.”  I asked park staff about the incident and was told, “The speed limit in the park reflects the driving condition on the winding road of the park. There are wildlife and speed limit signs in the park. Our law enforcement strictly enforce the speed limits. However, undetected speeding above the limit…. will occasionally result in vehicle-wildlife collisions.”  I can only ascertain that the driver, not the horse, was at fault.

When it comes to wild horses, federal and state agencies seem to agree that horses

Band of horses, Mesa Verde National Park, by Phil Morich

need to be managed, controlled, and removed,  while other wildlife roams freely.  Wild horses become the scapegoat for all wrongs, despite the fact that they are a native species,  despite the fact that they do contribute in a positive way to the natural ecosystem.  Unless we stop destroying our nation’s wild horses they are likely to become extinct.

After reviewing the National Park’s  ”Scoping Letter,”  I conclude that mitigating circumstances attributed to the horses can easily be corrected by improving the national park’s boundary fence and properly protecting all sensitive archaeological sites from wildlife and human damage which should have been done long ago in such a historically rich area.  Horses could be lured to less populated areas of the park by installing water tanks where horses are found.  Wild horse populations can be controlled by bait trapping and administering PZP a widely used equine birth control.  In an area of 52,000 there should be adequate room for all the wildlife, including wild horses.

Horses are supposed to be protected under the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WFRHB) .  Unfortunately, as Paul Morey, Wildlife Biologist at Mesa Verde National Park informed me, the WFRHB “covers horses on BLM and USFS land.  The park service does not fall under the act.”  Perhaps its time for that to change.
The wild horses at Mesa Verde National Park offer the park service the opportunity to take positive, proactive measures that will ultimately lead to a self sustaining herd  and a positive standard that encourages, promotes and protects wild horses, an example that other agencies might learn from.  The park would benefit from the wild horses,  a positive ecotourism resource.

It should be clear that managing horses in their natural setting far outweighs the alternatives. Current BLM and USFS practices have left fewer than 18,000 wild horses on federal lands,  while over 50,000 languish in BLM long and short term feed lots, costing American taxpayers over $75 Million annually.

Change comes hard, especially for governmental agencies entrenched in outdated,
unscientific practices funded by special interest groups such as welfare ranchers, mining, oil and gas.  Hopefully the park service can be more creative than its sister agencies, the BLM and USFS,  and take positive, environmentally sound steps to rectify the situation at Mesa Verde.

I would hope that citizens would respond to Mesa Verde National Park’s scoping letter and suggest improvement of fencing, protection of archaeological sites and to let the horses run free.

Help keep these horses at Mesa Verde National Park Free,
Photo by Phil Morich

To read the scoping letter and make comments please go to:



About Paula Todd King

My passions are my husband Ron, dogs who've blessed me with their love, writing, spending time in nature, meditating, reading, and finding gratitude in every waking moment. Earlier this year I was asked to join The Cloud Foundation as Communications Director,which has allowed me to contribute in a small way to help educate the public about the ongoing threat to our nations' Wild Horse Herds.
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5 Responses to Wild Horses in Mesa Verde National Park – Opportunity for Change

  1. Trish Graf says:

    Keep up the good work Missing you at fork trish

  2. lisa says:

    You have found your heaven, Paula!

  3. The tribe has conducted roundups in years past, and worked to reduce the wild horse problem. But the tribe is not responsible for Mesa Verde’s horses, a Ute Mountain wildlife official said.

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