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A dark brown mustang named Alpine stands between human visitors and his 12-member bandone of the dozens of bands that make up the roughly 500-horse Alpine herd in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Photo by Joe Duhownik

What designates a Wild Horse?

Advocates push back against ‘feral’ classification 

By JOE DUHOWNIK, Contributing Writer


This is the first of three stories about free-roaming horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.


ALPINE, Ariz. (CN)—Deep scars run through Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, a constant reminder of a devastating fire that burned more than 500,000 acres across the White Mountains around a decade ago.

That fire destroyed 19 miles of border fence, sparking a heated debate around the horses who now inhabit this region. Experts remain torn on where these horses came from and whether they belong here. Some say the fire and loss of fencing allowed horses to cross from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation into Apache-Sitgreaves. They say horses don't belong in this delicate ecosystem and would like to see them gone.

Others, including indigenous Apache who have long lived in the region, say the horses have been here for generations—long before that 2011 fire. The disagreement cuts to the core of Americans' unique relationship with this charismatic species, which first appeared in North America millions of years ago and later played a critical role in European colonization of the continent.

Hundreds of horses roam free near Alpine, Arizona, just six miles from the Arizona-New Mexico border and more than 8,000 feet above sea level. Locals and wild horse advocacy groups collectively refer to the horses, which roam nearly 75,000 acres of forest known as the Black River watershed, as the Alpine herd.

The U.S. Forest Service and most conservationists call them something else: feral.

"They shouldn't be there," said Robin Silver, founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting endangered species. "These are exotic animals that did not evolve with our habitat."

The existence of free-roaming horses in the American West has been a source of controversy since European settlers first arrived. While horses originally evolved in North America about five million years ago, scientists agree they completely disappeared from the continent around the end of the last Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago. Then, just around 500 years ago, colonizers and settlers from Europe reintroduced them to the continent. New research shows that horses spread quickly across North America in the decades after Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519, but scientists disagree on exactly where they ended up.

North American ecosystems changed a lot in the last 10,000 years—and many conservationists see the return of horses as detrimental. They say horses disrupt delicate ecosystems and take resources away from competing fauna. They’ve urged the Forest Service to remove them from public land.

Other advocates are fighting back to preserve what they say are historically and culturally significant beasts. In his 2011 book "Wild Horses of the West: History and Politics of America's Mustangs," J. Edward De Steiguer described free-roaming horses as "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West."

Simone Netherlands, horse advocate and president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, agrees. Removing horses from public land is "ungrateful" behavior given their significant role in American history, she said.

"This was how the Wild West was won," she said. "Literally on the backs of these horses."


Netherlands said she has DNA evidence linking the horses to those that carried the conquistadors into battle. Still, that wouldn’t prove them to be wild in the Forest Service’s eyes. The United States considers unbranded and unclaimed horses that roamed free on federal land before 1971 to be wild, a distinction made in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act that year. The law allows those horses and their descendants to remain on the land in perpetuity.


Under the law, the U.S. Forest Service also must protect them from injury or harassment from humans.

wolf colo.jpg

The gray wolf, Canis lupus, was first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974. Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission

Colorado signs bill

to aid livestock farmers

For death and injury caused by wolf woes

By AMANDA PAMPURO, Contributing Writer


(CN) — In the coming months, Colorado biologists will release a pack of wolves onto the western slope of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The apex predator was hunted into local extinction eight decades ago, clearing the way for another animals to settle and thrive: livestock.

In anticipation of inevitable wolf conflicts, Gov. Jared Polis signed into a bill into law that allocates funding to compensate livestock owners for wolf predation and harassment. Introduced with bipartisan support, the SB23-255 Wolf Depredation Compensation Fund appropriates $525,000 over the next two years to cover livestock losses.

Under the state’s final plan, ranchers will be compensated for vet bills to treat injured animals, including herding dogs, with up to $15,000 for animal deaths. While wolves kill less than 1percent of livestock annually, that risk threatens ranchers' livelihoods. Successful reintroduction of the keystone species therefore hinges on a suc- cessful compensation program for landowners who have unwittingly found themselves living in future wolf country.

A slim 50.91 percent of Centennial State voters in 2020 supported the measure to reintroduce wolves. The proposition backed by conservationists received strong criticism from residents and ranchers along the rural Western Slope, which happens to be ideal wolf habitat.

The gray wolf, Canis lupus, was first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974. Wolves were then delisted in October 2020 by the Trump administration until a federal judge in the Northern District of California restored the wild canine’s protected status last year. Because wolves are a protected species, the state must move in sync with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The federal agency proposed complementary rules in February that include lethal management under certain conditions.

With wolves once again protected under the Endangered Species Act, Erin Karney, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association is advocating for the federal government to categorize wolves as a 10(j) experimental species, allowing for lethal takes.


"When our producers are faced with this apex predator coming onto their lands, the least we could do is offer them that certainty that they could have management flexibility," Karney said. "As a sign of respect on what's to come, we should listen and act on their concerns to help livestock producers and Western folk communities to ensure that they're there in the future to ensure a successful reintroduction process.” 

Polis vetoed a measure on May 16 that would have paused the state reintroduction plan until the federal government signed off on the 10(j) rule. Polis argued that all the pieces would fall into place so there was no need to wait.

"SB23-256, however, is unnecessary and undermines the voters’ intent and the hard work of the Parks and Wildlife Commission, the expertise of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff, the extensive stake-holding undertaken by the Technical Working Group and the Stakeholder Advisory Group, and the ongoing collabora- tive work with our Federal partners, and could actually interfere with successfully receiving experimental population designation, which is the purported purpose of the bill," Polis explained in a letter.

"The management of the reintroduction of gray wolves into Colorado is best left to the Parks and Wildlife Com- mission as the voters explicitly mandated," Polis said.

The state Parks and Wildlife Commission unanimously approved a plan on May 3 hammering out the wolves’ travel plans after receiving input from more than 4,000 comments submitted online, through the mail and during 18 public meetings.

Indiana's GOP Senators Back Biden Nominee


Judge Doris Pryor, nominated to serve on the Seventh Circuit, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a July 13, 2022 hearing. Screenshot via Courthouse News

Republicans finally offer blue slip for Judge Doris Pryor

By ROSE WAGNER, Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON D.C. (CN)—The Senate Judiciary Committee considered a slate of judicial nominees July 13, 2022, including a Seventh Circuit nominee who is the first of President Joe Biden’s circuit court picks to get approval from two Republican home-state senators.

Doris Pryor would ascend to the Chicago-based federal appeals court from the Southern District of Indiana where she has been a federal magistrate judge since 2018. Indiana Senators Mike Braun and Todd Young have both backed Pryor’s nomination, the first time this Congress that any Republican has given the seal of approval known as a blue slip to a nominee who would serve their district.

In addition to Indiana, the Seventh Circuit hears appeals from federal courts in Wisconsin and Illinois.

While Biden set a record in just the first year of his term for the highest number of court nominees, he has taken care to avoid the chance of Republicans withholding a blue slip by putting his focus on judicial vacancies in states with Democratic delegations.

"I’m appreciative of the president’s willingness to consult with me and Senator Braun, when this position became available in an effort to appoint a judge who is earn respect and support from all sides of the political aisle," Young said at the July 13 hearing.

The nomination of Pryor, who is Black and briefly served as a deputy public defender in Arkansas, also fulfills additional goals that Biden has set in the appointment process to increase the demographic and professional diversity of the federal bench.

Pryor also spent more than a decade as an assistant US attorney in Indiana.

She drew some skepticism from Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah over a speech she made a few years prior during a celebration of Constitution Day at her son’s school. In the speech, Pryor referred to the  Consti- tution as a “living document."

“What’s important about it is that the Framers saw the need to be able to have this Constitution be able to apply to circumstances that they might not have thought of,” Pryor testified Wednesday, saying she had a commitment to Supreme Court precedents.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota gave a lighthearted dig at Lee for bringing up Pryor’s old comments.

"I was first paralyzed at the thought that, judge, you’re going to talk at your kid’s Constitution Day, and it shows up at the Senate Judiciary hearing, but I assume that’s your son sitting behind you, right? So he’s responsible for that line of questioning," Klobuchar joked, garnering laughs from the nominee and attendees.

The committee on the same day additionally considered a Ninth Circuit nominee, Roopali Desai, who would be the first South Asian person to sit on the San Francisco-based court.

Desai is a partner at the law firm of Coppersmith Brockelman in Phoenix. While her background drew praise from Democrats, Republican members of the committee were particularly critical of her work in state election cases.

Last year, Desai filed an amicus brief on behalf of clients in the Supreme Court case of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, arguing that an Arizona law banning third parties from collecting absentee ballots was racially discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court rejected those arguments and upheld the law.

"It rejected the argument. You wrote as an advocate that prohibitions on ballot harvesting are designed to suppress minority votes. Do you believe that as a factual matter?" Republican Senator Ted Cruz asked Desai.

"The statements that you're reading from were written in an amicus brief as an advocate filing on behalf of my clients. As a judge, I would apply unreservedly, fully and faithfully the precedent set forth by the court," she replied.

Desai saw additional jabs from Lee for another amicus brief she filed, this time in the case of Brush & Nib Studio v. State of Arizona, arguing that a small business refusing to create invitations for a same-sex wedding on the basis of religious beliefs violated the state’s constitution.

That brief was filed on behalf of a series of religious and nonsectarian organizations, and the Arizona Supreme Court similarly rejected the plaintiff’s arguments.

"It's true that some of my clients have been affiliated with Democratic causes, but I'm sure … that I have repre- sented clients, plaintiffs, defendants. … I've represented large corporations, Fortune 500 companies, small business owners. I’ve represented the government in many cases," Desai testified.

Three other nominees the court considered Wednesday were Maria del Antongiorgi-Jordán, Judge Gina Méndez-Miró and Judge Camille L. Vélez-Rivé, all of whom are slated serve as district court judges for the District of Puerto Rico.

Antongiorgi-Jordán is a clerk of court for the District of Puerto Rico and spent more than 20 years in private practice as a partner at McConnell Valdés’ office in San Juan.

Vélez-Rivé is a magistrate judge in Puerto Rico, a role she’s held for 18 years. She previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and as an associate with the law firm of Pietrantoni Méndez.

Méndez-Miró has been a judge on the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals since 2016 and would be the first openly LGBTQ judge in Puerto Rico. She also served in the Puerto Rico Office of Court Administration in several roles, including general counsel and director of the legal affairs office.

During her time with the judicial branch, Méndez-Miró managed adult and juvenile drug court programs.

“The right to rehabilitate is a constitutional right in Puerto Rico, so it’s of the paramount importance in Puerto Rico,” she testified. “That’s probably one of my most gratifying experiences and knowledge, trying to make deals with prosecutors, court staff and judges to design guidelines that are balanced, that are addressing the issues of addiction in a way that that understands it is a sickness.”

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