We ended our last blog post with a quote from Robert Utley. We wanted to start this post with part of that quote:
“If you had this kind of combination, a receptive Park Service, a Superintendent who would listen and was sold, and a conservancy that was viable and able, maybe with some federal funding, and then the public support in North Dakota, possibly South Dakota, that would bring pressures on the congressional delegation.”
After 20 years of advocating for the horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Frank and Leo made the main focus of their advocacy efforts preserving North Dakota’s own unique wild horses and the story of their unique history. The two have dedicated their lives to preserving this unique breed of horses and at the same time, for the last 40+ years, Frank STILL continues to be a voice for the wild horses that live in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, ND.
I had to ask myself WHY??? Why can’t Frank just be content with the success the nonprofit organization he and his brother helped create, The Nokota Horse Conservancy, and realize that he has lost the battle with the National Park Service?
Because that is not how advocating works.
Advocating means more than simply using that word in a sentence. Advocating means being the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Advocating means standing up for the injustices of those who cannot speak for themselves. Advocating means setting aside your personal agenda and your ego to humbly walk forward to help someone other than yourself.
That sums up our friend Frank Kuntz in a nutshell.
These horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park represent a very important historical time in our American History. A time when our greatest conservation president, who once lived on these very lands and owned the ancestors of these horses, Theodore Roosevelt, for whom this actual park is named, came here and experienced the untethered beauty of the Badlands of North Dakota. That beauty was enhanced by the wildlife that roamed these lands and his own writings tell us that INCLUDEDED the wild horses.
Frank wants not only their unique genetics and their history preserved. I guess you can say that Frank and the park agree on at least one thing:
“Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few national parks where visitors can observe free-roaming horses. Their presence represents Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences here during the open-range ranching era.” (from the TRNP website)
All that has ever been asked of Theodore Roosevelt National Park management, who by the National Park Services own policies are to preserve the science and history in America’s National Parks, is that they do that very job.
When Frank and Leo switched their focus to preserving what came to be known as the Nokota breed of horses, no one came up behind them to regularly do our public duty in creating checks and balances within Theodore Roosevelt National Park management.
People quit questioning the park and if they did, it was done behind closed doors and without alerting the public to the gross mismanagement practices that have run rampant with no public oversight since around the year 2000.
The groups that came after Frank and Leo found success in their “advocacy” efforts by stopping as many horses as possible from going directly to slaughter. A truly commendable feat. While they have been patting themselves on the back for helping find homes for the horses in the park, they have helped the park with the agenda they published back in 1978: to have 35-60 horses in the park. These new nonprofit groups have helped the park find homes for the horses that have been captured and sold over the years. Horses between the age of 4 months old – 3 years old are sold to buyers who are NOT vetted by ANYONE in the National Park Service and there is also no follow up to the new owners. There is no real guarantee that every horse they have helped find a home for is still alive today. We estimate the number of horses that have been captured and sold under their watch since 2009 to be approximately 400 horses. There are currently over 180 horses in the park today, and both groups are looking forward with excitement to once again be able to help TRNP park management find homes for the estimated 70+ horses that the park will begin to remove in 2022. They are still willing to help despite no longer having any partnership agreements with the TRNP park management.
Their “partnership” agreements with the park stated that they would help promote the horses in the park to make them easier to sell. In the process of honoring their partnership with the park, they turned their backs on the horses that remain IN the park as selling off every baby has resulted in bloodlines that are now lost forever, an unbalanced population of wild horses with an inbreeding problem that has yet to be addressed by park management as well as giving Theodore Roosevelt National Park carte blanche to decimate what was once a group of horses that were historically significant to our American story.
You may be asking yourself – WHY can’t things change NOW?
We will once again leave you with Robert Utley’s words, written wayyyy back in 2009, to answer that:
“The problem is they don’t want to acknowledge that they did the wrong thing back then and be embarrassed by it.
…as long as it is agitated in public its embarrassing the Park Service
…I don’t think in the foreseeable future, unless we can get the new director, whoever he/she may turn out to be, to take personal notice, that we can go any further then trying to keep the agitation up and embarrassing the Park Service before the public. They don’t like to be embarrassed.
…Most issues like this they like to leave to the Regional Director, and the Regional Director left to the Superintendent. So you run into one (Superintendent) as stubborn as one in TR, the best you can hope for is to keep the pressure up.”