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North Dakotans raise concerns about reduction in TRNP herd

Wild horses, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
David Lee
North Dakota Tourism
Wild horses, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is working on its wildlife management plan, hoping to decrease the population objective of its wild horse herd to 30 to 70 horses. Around 200 wild horses currently live at the park, and the plan would sell most of them to reach their goal.

Many North Dakotans are concerned about this large reduction in the herd.

Fargo resident Birgit Pruess is an avid horse fan who recently wrote a book on the horses living in the park. She says there is a large movement in North Dakota and beyond of people who are against decreasing the herd by a large degree. Pruess says these groups are concerned that the 30 to 70 horse limit would impact the genetic viability of the herd.

"According to wild horse geneticists, it's below the level of 120 or 150 horses needed for the genetic viability of the herd. They are inbred as is according to their own publication from 2018, and you need some amount of genetic diversity to keep them going."

Pruess says wild horses are a major part of North Dakota’s cultural heritage and the herd of wild horses is unique to the park. She points out that bison can be seen in many places throughout the state, but the herd of wild horses can only be found in the park.

"For me, it's my happy place. It's where I go when I want to have a good time, and the horses are part of that, the bison wouldn't give me that, even though I love the bison, I can't identify them individually. The horses are identifiable and that makes a big difference because that's where all these wonderful stories are coming from, all the experiences that people have with the horses. "Oh, he looked at me and that changed my mind, and that why I keep coming back," and so on and, "I keep looking for the same horse or the same band of horses." "

Pruess says decreasing the population objective of the herd by so much would be a great loss to the park and to all the wildlife lovers who visit.