Hello and Happy Sunday to everyone.
As promised, we are continuing to share our coverage from last week and the events leading up to and including our Bully Pulpit Rally.
The #1 question I have received all week is “How did the meeting with the park go?”
Before we get into the meeting, I want to remind everyone WHY there was a meeting; WHY there was a rally… American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) recently received information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) about the use of GonaCon on the mares in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. That information coupled with the park’s announcement to give GonaCon to every female horse aged 8 months old and up every year – was alarming, to say the least.
You can read the AWHC blog post about the FOIA here: https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/media/foia-records-raise-questions-sterility-theodore-roosevelt-mares
This prompted us to reach out to NPS Regional Director Herbert Frost and Superintendent Angie Richman to discuss our concerns. Director Frost agreed to meet with me and further stated that I could bring up to 4 other members of CHWHA or interested parties with me. He would also have 4 other NPS personnel with him. We would have 1 hour for our meeting.
I chose my 4 people wisely: Mary Koncel from American Wild Horse Campaign
Ginger Fedak from In Defense of Animals
ND Representative Mike Lefor (ND House Majority Leader)
I have also been speaking to Shari at Senator Hoeven’s office for years. She was coming to the rally and when she asked about the meeting, I invited her. A few days later, she emailed me to let me know that she had a family emergency that came up and she would not be able to attend the rally or the meeting. HOWEVER…Eric from Senator Hoeven’s DC office was willing to call in and be at the meeting via phone. AWESOME! We met with Eric while we were in DC and were excited to have him participate in this meeting!
Director Frost had the following NPS personnel with him:
Superintendent Angie Richman
Chief of Resource Management – Blake McCann
Public Affairs Specialist – Alexandra Picavet (we were told she is also working on the current management plan for the horses)
Rachael – Director Frost’s assistant
Director Frost opened by telling us that he was there to listen to our perspectives. He reiterated that no decisions would be made at this time. He let us know that when the draft Environmental Assessment (EA) there will be a public comment period and then a final decision will be made. He encouraged us to participate in the public comment period.
He also added some information about the public comment period that I want to share:
This public comment period is to make sure the public gets a chance to have input not this proposed action.
THIS is NOT a voting process. This is NOT a matter of “who gets the most votes wins”
They are looking for substantiative comments. Form letters aren’t helpful in terms of moving forward and how they make a decision.
They expect the Draft EA to be out late summer. Once the park completes the EA, the regional office has to review it and sign off on it. From there, the EA goes to Washington, DC for review. This is part of the reason for the delay in getting the EA out.
Once the EA is released, Superintendent Richman stated that they will be once again holding a virtual public meeting. There will be another 30-day comment period once the draft EA is released.
I shared with Director Frost, Superintendent Richman and the other NPS staff our concerns regarding the use of GonaCon. Mary & Ginger also expressed their concerns about the use of GonaCon and also spoke to the benefits and 40 years of proven effective history that PZP has.
AWHC has offered to train volunteers to administer PZP. Mary added that AWHC supports grassroots advocacy. They have been working with us at CHWHA because they believe preserving North Dakota’s ONLY wild horse herd through a sustainable herd management plan is extremely important. Mary also highlighted that North Dakota has brought together an unprecedented group of stakeholders from nonprofits like CHWHA, The United Tribes of North Dakota, ND Legislators, Federal Delegates, The ND Stockman’s Assn., etc. “The Park Service is not alone moving forward with this herd.” She added. She went onto talk about AWHC’s success with the use of PZP on the Virginia Range. She reiterated that AWHC would like to partner with the park.
Ginger noted that as a former range specialist, the park has plentiful forage made up of great native grasses. She reiterated Mary’s comments about PZP.
I presented Director Frost and Superintendent Richman with our petition, signed by many of you, demanding that they immediately stop using GonaCon. Over 700 of you signed that petition – THANK YOU!
Representative Mike Lefor talked about the meeting he attended along with other leaders in the ND State Legislature, Senator Hoeven, Governor Burgum, Attorney General Drew Wrigley and NPS Director Sams. He reiterated the strong support the park has from the state of North Dakota and the unanimous passing of SCR 4014 in the last ND legislative session. He added that the state also understands the challenges that the park has.
For Representative Lefor personally, because of his proximity to the park, his family personally has 5 generations of visitors to the park dating back to the 1950’s. He went with his grandparents and now he is taking his grandchildren.
Piggy backing on the legislative process, I let them know that the City of Medora voted this week to sign their own resolution asking the park to keep the horses.
Once again, Mary, Ginger and I reiterated our willingness to work with the park. Ginger and Mary added the comments about the amazing condition the horses were in, the ease of ability to see the horses.
“You have the total package here.”
Blake McCann spoke up and let us know that they are NOT darting EVERY female horse aged 8 months old and up EVERY year. Through our conversation we were informed that they are giving GonaCon to some of the mares (they would not tell us how they were choosing who was treated) and then those horses are given a booster in 2 years.
When we pointed out that this is not what was written in the categorical exclusion or on the portal, both Director Frost and Blake McCann stated they would look at the wording and adjust it for clarification.
Blake also reiterated what Dr, Baker told us in our Horse Talk, that the results of the CSU experiment paper is in the process of being peer reviewed and should be released “soon” – he expects maybe in the next 3-6 months possibly.
Blake also mentioned that he was NOT in favor of the current communication portal. Director Frost let us know that he put that in place because the park was being bombarded by advocates. The portal was seen as a way to help alleviate conflict between the different organizations and that the interactions and accusations being made between organizations instituted the change in the way the park communicates to the portal. This will continue to be the way they make sure everyone gets the same information.
Director Frost said that he appreciates the offers to help with the management of the horses. He also added that 20-50 years from now, none of us will be sitting at the table with the support being promised today.
How does the park maintain promises for assistance or “gifts”? The NPS is looking at how to we get a long-term maintenance for not just this, but other TRNP projects?
One way he mentioned was endowments. He added that even if the state of ND with their offers to help financially, while the state has the revenue now, will they still in another 20-50 years?
He does not want to make short-term decisions without looking at the long-term consequences.
I told everyone who was there that I do believe that this whole process has been a HUGE wake up call to ALL of the non-profit groups that advocate for this herd. We have all been in communication and I do believe that we are at a point where we can put our differences aside and focus on the strengths that each organization has and their ability to bring those strengths to the table in a unified way to help the park and help save this herd.
Again, as Director Frost stated at the beginning, no decisions would be made at this time. He had another meeting to go to and had to leave.
Was my offer for all of the organizations working together justified?
Can we do that?
As always…stay tuned!
The coverage of the week continues tomorrow!
THANK YOU to Mary, Ginger, Representative Lefor and Eric from Senator Hoeven’s office for being a part of this meeting.
Thank you for your support and have a GREAT day!
Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates is committed to advocating for a wild horse management plan and protection for these unique wild horses that call Theodore Roosevelt National Park home! We are fighting for a management plan that is guided by science especially when it comes to decisions regarding the removal of horses and the administration of birth control. Many other wild horse management plans have proven to be successful with their science-based plans. We are asking for the same for this amazing group of wild horses that call Theodore Roosevelt National Park home.