Extension Request

Hello again!

As promised, we have an update for you today…

Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates submitted the following letter to Superintendent Angie Richman formally requesting an extension for the current comment period.  We are requesting that the 30-day comment period be extended to 60 days. 

We are thankful to the organizations that signed onto this letter with us!  We will also be forwarding a copy of this letter to Senator Hoeven’s office.  We spoke with his office yesterday and they said they would submit this extension request to Congress as well. 

We will let you know if our request is granted.  Until we know otherwise, please make sure you get your comments in by October 25, 2023.  We are doing a Horse Talk today about how to make an impactful comment.  We will also start discussing comment points over the next week along with some new Calls to Action.

The letter we submitted is below for you to read.

Thank you again for your support!


Superintendent Richman:

The following organizations are formally requesting that Theodore Roosevelt National Park extend the current 30-day comment period on your Livestock Management Plan (“LMP”)  to 60 days:
Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates
The Medora City Council
American Wild Horse campaign
In Defense of Animals
Wild in North Dakota
Oregon Wild Horse Organization
Save Our Wild Horses
WHAGR Institute
Equine Collaborative International
Wild Horse Education
Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Placement Group
Wild Lands Wild Horses Series and Fund
North Dakota Badlands Horse
The Cloud Foundation
Kuntz Nokota Ranch

As explained below, there are several reasons that, both individually and collectively, demonstrate the compelling need for additional time to sufficiently consider, develop, and propose additional alternatives to the Park’s LMP.

BACKGROUND

Wild horses have long resided within the boundaries of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (“TRNP”) and it remains “one of the few national parks where visitors can observe free-roaming horses.” As enduring symbols of the rugged North Dakota Badlands, these wild horses attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Park each year, and represent a significant economic driver for small businesses in the western portion of our state. Indeed, hundreds of local businesses and business owners depend on the TRNP’s wild horses for their livelihood by catering to seasonal tourists, who visit the Park specifically to view wild horses and, in the process, inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy each year. The Park’s own Foundation Document—which defines “the park’s purpose, significance, fundamental resources and values, other important resources and values, and interpretive themes”—forthrightly recognizes that these wild horses “were an important part of the cultural landscape when Theodore Roosevelt lived in the area and they are a very popular visitor attraction today.” For this reason, previous attempts by TRNP to eliminate the wild horse herds have been “met with very strong public disapproval.”

For over 40 years, the Park has managed its wild horse herds pursuant to a 1978 “Environmental Assessment” that prescribes a herd size of “approximately 40 individuals.” In March of 2022, the Park announced that it was considering updating its wild horse management plan and proposed six (6) different alternative potential strategies. Only one of those, however, envisioned the gradual elimination of all wild horses in the TRNP.

On December 12, 2022, the Park suddenly announced a public comment period on its proposed LMP. The Park’s proposal outlined three alternatives: (1) a “No Action” alternative, whereby wild horse management would proceed according to the 1978 Environmental Assessment; (2) an entirely new alternative that envisions the “expedited” elimination of all wild horses from the TRNP; and (3) the Park’s “Proposed Action,” which also envisions elimination of the entire TRNP herd, but through a “phased” approach. In other words, despite previously indicating that wild horse eradication was just a remote possibility, the Park’s December notice abruptly announced the Park’s intent to re-make the character of the TRNP by permanently removing all wild horses.

On September 25, 2023, the Park released their Draft Environmental Assessment.  A full week later, on October 2, 2023, the Park released documents requested by Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates and in compliance with 43 CFR § 46.135.  Your email regarding this issue also stated that “Some of these documents are not publicly accessible and we will have a pdf up shortly with links to find them.“  As of today, October 5, 2023, those documents have not been released to the public. 

The release of thousands of pages of documents requires time to properly review, especially in light of the discrepancy with the Brownlee report that was released vs. the interpretation that the Park included in their Draft EA.  

DISCUSSION

We appreciate the Park Service seeking public comment on its LMP to ensure the agency makes a well-informed decision on an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of thousands of North Dakotans and Americans who cherish the TRNP. However, given the gravity of the Park’s proposal and the unfortunate timing of announcement, this is not a circumstance where a truncated comment period is warranted. In fact, there are several compelling reasons for extending the public comment deadline.

First, it is beyond legitimate dispute that the Park’s proposed LMP represents a fundamental transformation of the TRNP—one that will send shockwaves through the local economy. As indicated above, a significant number of North Dakotans rely on the Park’s wild horse herds to support businesses directly linked to those animals and/or by providing goods and services to visitors who travel to North Dakota specifically to see the Park herds. What we have been able to review within the Brownlee report has raised some questions of the validity of what the Park reported in your Draft EA.  The Park relied heavily on the Brownlee report to refute the claims made by many of the 19,000 comments they received during the comment period that ended on January 31, 2023 about the negative impact removing the horses would have on the economy. 

The Brownlee report is one of almost 80 reports that were released last week by the Park.  With more documents coming at a later date, the public requires ample time to properly review all of these documents. 

Second, the Park Service routinely grants extension requests in comparable circumstances. Indeed, even a quick internet search identifies numerous examples where the Park Service has extended comment deadlines on far more mundane proposals than that at issue here. For instance, the Park Service extended the public comment period for proposed alterations to the recreation-and-use fees collected by the Assateague Island National Seashore. Put simply, a modest extension of the kind sought here to ensure that the public can meaningfully participate in the Park’s future management is consistent with longstanding agency practice.

Third, compared to the serious concerns held by the public and briefly outlined above, there is no countervailing need to rush this process to commence immediate implementation of the LMP. As explained, the Park service has waited for nearly 45 years to propose a new LMP governing wild horses. The length of this delay, of course, undercuts any argument that the LMP is so urgently needed that a 30-day extension would somehow impair the Park Service’s interests here. This doubly true when weighed against the significance of the Park’s proposed decision, which entails reinterpreting the agency’s authority under federal law, and the importance of meaningful public participation in the NEPA process for National Park management. In other words, the Park Service’s refusal to grant a modest extension here would subvert the fundamental purposes of NEPA. This, too, counsels in favor of extending the comment period for the Park’s LMP.

CONCLUSION

Thank you for your consideration of this extension request. We cannot overstate the importance of the environmental, socioeconomic, historic, and cultural values embodied by the TRNP wild horse herds. For the reasons explained above and to avoid severe prejudice to the public, we respectfully request that the Park Service extend the TRNP Livestock Management Plan comment period by 30 days, until November 25, 2023. Given the time-sensitive nature of this request, we would appreciate the agency’s response no later than October 12, 2023.

Respectfully submitted,

Christine Kman
President
Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates
www.chwha.org

CC:

Herbert Frost, Regional Director
Midwest Region
U.S. National Park Service
Bert_Frost@nps.gov

Maureen McGee-Ballinger, Deputy Superintendent
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
U.S. National Park Service
Maureen_McGee-Ballinger@nps.gov

Blake McCann, Chief Resource Manager

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

U.S. National Park Service

Blake_Mccann@nps.gov


3 thoughts on “Extension Request

Leave a Reply

%d