Writing Your Comment Letter: Classifications and Purpose & Need

Hello and Happy Tuesday!

Before we get too far into today’s blog post, I wanted to remind everyone that there is a “virtual” public meeting today.  I am not pressing people to attend; we know what to expect.  I personally feel that it would make more of a statement if we didn’t show up to let the park know that we would like a good old-fashioned town hall meeting where they face the public and defend their rationale for removing the horses.  If you would like to hear more of the same old same old, make sure you have Microsoft Teams and head over to the Park’s planning website for the link.  The meeting starts at 6 pm MST and will more than likely end promptly at 7 pm MST.  We will recap the meeting in tomorrow’s blog. 

The BEST way to show up for the horses is to COMMENT! 

Yesterday was a WHOPPER of a blog post, wasn’t it?!  We hope that you took some time to scream, yell, kick and even cry if you needed to.

Now that we have that out of our systems….

Let’s get down to how to write an effective and impactful comment. 

For starters, if you already commented, you are welcome to comment as many times as you would like.  If something resonates with you through these series of blogposts, feel free to send in another comment.  Because we are still going through the document dump the Park did last week, and to get as much information to you as possible, we recommend that you wait to comment until we get through these blog posts and until we get through as much of the documents as we can.  Jot down things that interest you or points you want to make and keep it as a “working comment” letter until you are happy with your comment. 

You DO NOT have to sound like Einstein in your comment letter and if you aren’t, we recommend NOT trying to be!  Be YOU, be original, be respectful and be FACTUAL.

We are also NOT trying to tell you WHAT to comment.  We are just making suggestions based on what we commented on and what we have heard from all of you.  The biggest thing is to NOT completely copy and paste what we talk about into your letter.  That makes your letter potentially become viewed as a form letter by the Park.  They will minimize that by collecting all of the “form letters” and counting them as ONE!

We need everyone to comment to make sure your comment becomes part of the public record and part of the fight to save these horses.  Please help spread the word!

So you understand, once this comment period is over (we have not heard about our extension request) the park will review comments and we anticipate that they will move on to the Final EA and FONSI (Finding Of No Significant Impact).  They could then start removing horses as early as next Spring or Summer.  Or as we learned in the document we discussed yesterday; they can euthanize the horses if they don’t sell fast enough!

Last week, we were joined by our lawyer Matt from Eubanks and Associates.  He answered questions for over an hour.  You can view this video here: https://youtu.be/QERohSyjpnY

We also spoke with Dr. Ross MacPhee recently too and he made some great comments about the Park’s Draft EA.  You can view that video here: https://youtu.be/tNbQf3fBf6k

We also have valuable information (including some “talking points”) collected together on our website here: https://chwha.org/save-the-trnp-wild-horses/

There are two points that no matter what you believe the proper management of these horses should look like or why that you should make sure are included with at the very least a statement from you in your comment letter.  Those are the two points we will discuss today.

As we go through these comment suggestion blogs, please keep this in mind:

NEPA establishes a baseline standard and requires all federal agencies to take a “hard look” at how their actions affected the human and natural environment and if there are ways to minimize environmental effects.

During our Horse Talk with Matt, we talked about this Draft EA and commenting from the very basic part.  The Livestock Plan. (please note this change – the Park no longer refers to this as a Livestock Management Plan – there is no plan to manage the horses or longhorn steer anymore – just plans to remove them).

Just because the Park refuses to listen to the public about their own reclassification of the horses as livestock doesn’t mean that we have to accept it.  IF they followed proper procedures to made this classification change, they need to share that with the public.  Since they have yet to share that – and we have been asking for this official classification for YEARS – it is safe to assume that has never happened.

Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates had a lot to say about the livestock classification in our last comment letter and we will restate this information in our next comment letter. Our last comment letter can be viewed in its entirety on our website: https://chwha.org/save-the-trnp-wild-horses/

Here are a few points to note:

“In recognition of the Organic Act’s strict focus on preservation, NPS’s regulations implementing the Organic Act broadly prohibit the removal of any wildlife, dead or alive, from the boundaries of a National Park. See 36 C.F.R. § 2.1; see also id. § 2.2 (NPS regulations concerning wildlife, which include a prohibition against “taking” and/or intentionally “disturbing” wildlife found within a park unit). NPS regulations define “wildlife” to mean “any member of the animal kingdom and includes a part, product, egg or offspring thereof, or the dead body or part thereof, except fish.” Id. § 1.4 (emphasis added).1 The TRNP, specifically, includes wild horses in its definition of “wildlife” for purposes of its prohibition against “Disturbing Wildlife” in the Park. See TRNP, Superintendent’s Compendium of Designations, Closures, Permit Requirements and Other Restrictions Imposed Under Discretionary Authority (Aug. 23, 2022) (“Except for inadvertent or casual encounters with wildlife in areas where traffic is required or essential, willfully approaching, remaining, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 25 yards to bison, elk, and feral horses or closer to any other wildlife including nesting birds, or within any distance that disturbs, displaces, or otherwise interferes with the free unimpeded movement of wildlife, or creates or contributes to a potentially hazardous condition or situation.” (emphasis added)) [hereinafter “Superintendent’s Compendium”].”

Fun fact!  Angie Richman’s 2023 Superintendent’s Compendium can be found in their “document dump”!  Interestingly, it would appear that the document was uploaded by mistake.  It can be found under the file NPS 2011a.  The name would suggest that it is a file from 2011 but when you open it her current year Superintendent Compendium is there. We have also uploaded this document – you can also view it here:

You will note on page 5, she left the same line in!  She puts the horses in the same conversation with other wildlife in the park.  Quite contradictory in light of their classification.  This is inconsistent with the “dots” they are connecting for us!  But you know what they say….when you are telling the truth, it is easy to remember what to say!

Again, don’t try to sound like a lawyer if you aren’t one either 😉 

This is also from CHWHA’s last comment letter:

“As a threshold matter, the Park’s classification and, therefore, management of wild horses as “livestock” does not comport with the plain language of NPS’s regulations. Instead, these non-domesticated animals are best classified as “wildlife” and deserve to be managed as such. Regardless, the rationale for the Park’s arbitrary classification has not been explained to the public. To the extent the Park decides in the LMP process to manage wild horses as “livestock,” it must explain why those animals have been excluded from the Park’s definition of “wildlife,” how their historical treatment comports with the plain meaning of “livestock,” and why other similarly managed Park species fall outside the ambit of its definition.”

The next part we will talk about today is the Purpose and Need part of the Draft EA.  Remember that Matt said every comment you make – the Park will redirect to the Purpose and Need statement of their Livestock Plan.  This was also reiterated by the Park in the document we shared yesterday.  EVERYTHING you comment has to fit in the box of the Park’s Livestock Plan Purpose and Need statement.

Here is the Park’s Purpose and Need statement (it has changed throughout this process):


The purpose of the proposed action is to address livestock—horse and cattle herds—within the Park, under relevant laws, regulations, policies, and management priorities, including the conservation of native species and natural prairie ecosystem functions.

The proposed action is needed to:

  • Address operational commitments to livestock management
  • Address potential impacts of livestock on the landscape and natural resources, including native wildlife, native vegetation, and water resources
  • Address potential impacts of livestock on cultural resources, including archeological sites and cultural landscapes
  • Provide resiliency for native ecosystems and species in the face of a changing climate
  • Align livestock management with relevant laws, regulations, and policies
  • Emphasize bison management in alignment with Secretarial Order 3410

I want to start by picking these apart a little:

The proposed action is needed to:

  • Address operational commitments to livestock management

We and our friends at American Wild Horse Campaign have asked several times for the “total cost of management” of the wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  After evading our questions for months, they updated the horse portal on their website with this response:

Q55: What is the cost to manage livestock?

A55: Many park staff are involved in the management of livestock at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The management of livestock includes staff time and salary in addition to supplies and contracted services. Many of the associated activities and costs have not been tracked individually, therefore estimates of annual and long-term costs are not available. Managing the horse herd size takes a substantial amount of Park staff time on an annual basis that could otherwise be used to preserve and protect the Park’s fundamental resources.

Did that answer the question?  NOPE so please ask again in your comment letter!

  • Address potential impacts of livestock on the landscape and natural resources, including native wildlife, native vegetation, and water resources

Since we have NPS 2022h as a reference document now, feel free to use it!  For example, page 11 of the report talks specifically about water resources:

  • The group discussed whether water was a limiting factor for any species in the Park.  Camera data show it was not a limiting factor.
  • Climate change scenario: There are artesian wells that presumably will at some time stop producing.  Horse and native species have not been seen congregating along the Little Missouri more in drought years than in non-drought years, implying that they have other water sources available to them in the Park. 
  • Address potential impacts of livestock on cultural resources, including archeological sites and cultural landscapes

They addressed this too in the NPS 2022h document – right on page 9:

  • Cultural:  there is overlapping animal damage, primarily from bison (for instance, there is some known archeological damage).
  • Provide resiliency for native ecosystems and species in the face of a changing climate

The Park has not defined what their “native ecosystem” looks like.  Please ask in your comment letter.

  • Align livestock management with relevant laws, regulations, and policies

We know that horses are allowed in other national parks so this is yet another excuse they are using to fit their narrative.

  • Emphasize bison management in alignment with Secretarial Order 3410

We will talk about this point later this week.  The bottom line is that one species should NOT eliminate another. Bison and horses have been cohabiting in the park since they reintroduced the bison in the 1950s.  There is no reason why that cannot continue. 

Other problems with the current Purpose and Need statement:

  • It is too narrowly focused

CHWHA discussed this in our last comment letter:

“The scope of the Park’s proposed alternatives analysis is far too narrow. As explained, the Park’s recent announcement indicates that only one action alternative (albeit implemented at different speeds) is now under consideration: eradication of the herd, quickly or slowly. See Scoping Notice at 3. In similar contexts, reviewing courts have found that the agency “failed to consider an adequate range of alternatives” where its NEPA analysis “considered only a no action alternative along with two virtually identical alternatives.” Muckleshoot Indian Tribe v. U.S. Forest Serv., 177 F.3d 800, 812-13 (9th Cir. 1999) (per curiam); see also Union Neighbors, 831 F.3d at 577 (rejecting NEPA analysis that failed to consider a “realistic mid-range alternative” proposed by petitioners).”

  • It does not take into account the cultural and historical significance of the TRNP wild horses

Again, please see our last comment letter for more details:

“Although the Park states that an LMP is also “needed to . . . [a]ddress operational commitments to livestock management,” id., it does not make explicit the need to address the herd’s historical significance within the Badlands landscape, which the Park is meant to preserve as a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt and the “profound effect” it had on him. See, e.g., Foundation Document at 3; see also id. at 11 (listing “Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences in the Little Missouri Badlands” as the first “interpretative theme” of the Park). As discussed above and in CHWHA’s March 21, 2022 letter, wild horses are, indeed, an indelible symbol of the rugged character of the Badlands and demonstrably played a role in “Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences in the Little Missouri Badlands.” Id. at 11, 10 (acknowledging that wild horses “were an important part of the cultural landscape when Theodore Roosevelt lived in the area”). Thus, regardless of the Park’s classification of wild horses, the LMP’s impact on their historical significance and the Park’s historic interpretation of the Badlands must be made a part of the “purpose and need” for the herd’s future management. The Park should amend its NEPA analysis accordingly, in order to avoid artificially narrowing the scope of alternatives analyzed by the Park—which is demarcated by the purpose and need for the action.”

We hope this helps you start your comment letter.  We will continue to talk about different comments.  As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to email us at info@chwha.org.

Thank you for your support and have a great day!

As a reminder, we have 2 more zoom talks planned where we will discuss this Draft EA and the public comment period. The first is THIS FRIDAY (10/13) with our friends at Equine Collaborative International.  The event is FREE but you do need to send an email to register: 411eci@gmail.com

The second will be on FRIDAY 10/20 at 6 pm MST with our friend Heather from Save Our Wild Horses.  This event is also FREE but you need to send an email to register: kaya97524@yahoo.com.

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