Saturday’s auction in Wishek, N.D., of wild horses from North Dakota’s Badlands has attracted national attention. It is likely buyers from several states and possibly Canada will descend on the small McIntosh County town for the sale of some 100 horses that have been culled from the herd in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. In addition, expect people who might not buy a horse but are deeply concerned with the welfare of wild horses to be at ringside.
Because of the attention, the folks who conduct the sale at Wishek Livestock Sales will be under unique scrutiny. That should not be a problem because the stockmen at the facility are experienced with horses and have made preparations to run a sale that is safe for horses and efficient for buyers. They know they will be dealing with skittish wild animals.
However, the sale is a symptom of a larger problem that is not unique to a national park in North Dakota. There are too many wild horses on federal rangeland. They compete with other grazing animals, including buffalo and elk. Control of horse populations has been spotty. Birth control methods have been effective in some places, less effective in others. Culling and selling has been routine. The need for the Saturday sale of North Dakota horses suggests a birth control program has not been as successful as hoped.
The National Park Service has responsibility for the horses. The agency’s budget has been cut, so it is unfair to assign blame for inadequate horse control to park personnel. That being said, the park service should at least try to ensure the horses go to buyers who can care for the animals. That means:
- Assurances horses are not purchased for slaughter.
- A legal determination that purchasers have the resources to feed, graze and house wild horses.
- An on-site check to make sure buyers have the right equipment to safely transport horses long distances.
There are no guarantees, either at the sale or regarding the ultimate fate of the horses. But it looks like park service personnel and sales ring operators have done as much as can be done to pull off a successful sale.
Horse viewing is underway today. The sale is Saturday. The event also includes music, meals and accommodations. Much credit goes to Legacy Mustang Preservation, The Cloud Foundation, the people of Wishek and other wild horse advocates for promoting the sale. Given the lore of wild horses and the high profile of the event, it should be quite a show at Wishek.