For the Love of a Herd: Protecting Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Wild Horses

A culturally significant herd of wild horses is being threatened. The herd will be eradicated from its historic landscape. However, there are ways to help. Read on to learn how.

By Jamie Baldanza and Deb Lee Carson, of Wild Lands Wild Horses

In the heart of North Dakota, amid the rugged badlands, rolling buttes, and vast prairies, an immense but mostly unknown battle is unfolding. This battle not only impacts the locals but people globally and most importantly, close to 200 historic wild horses that call Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) their home.

To many, TRNP is more than just a place of science, conservation, or preservation. It’s a national park named after a historical figure, Theodore Roosevelt; a place where memories are created, friendships are born, an enchanting landscape pulls you in, and the love of the wild calls out to individuals repeatedly, even those from as far away as New Jersey.

Yet, what TRNP management fails to recognize is the profound impact these wild horses have on people across the globe. Many have attested that if these horses are removed, they will not visit TRNP again, for they go specifically to witness the horses.

So, why is there a push to remove these horses from their natural habitat? The answer seems to be a reluctance to manage them effectively by the National Park Service (NPS). Local NPS management, specifically TRNP staff, are attempting to reduce the wild horse population to zero, thus threatening the loss of an essential part of that region’s extraordinary history and a direct link to their cultural heritage.

So Why Should You Care?

You might wonder why this battle, seemingly far from your own life, should matter to you. We aim to explain it in this article.

The Environmental Assessment (EA) was officially released (you can read it here) and one will have until October 25th, 2023, to make your comment.

Before we dive further into this process, we would like to show you some undeniable statistics. This herd of wild horses is among one of the most-followed herds globally. To illustrate this point, twelve social media groups that follow and document this herd, participated in a survey to reveal their analytics. We discovered that over 1 million people follow this herd on social media. Yes, you read that right—1 million people are connected to the mere 195 horses in this park.

Now let’s compare that to in-person visits. On average, TRNP receives 600,000 visitors annually. Since 1947, the year the area was designated as a ‘memorial park’, 35,644,680 people have made the journey to that enchanting landscape, primarily during the months of June, July and August.  That bears repeating—over 35 million people!

Amongst all of this Wild Lands, Wild Horses collected 400+ stories from people all around the world during the second comment period, including individuals from as far away as Australia and Germany. These stories reflect the deep and heartfelt impact that these wild horses have on people, both young and old, locally and globally. These narratives were delivered to senators, congresspersons, influential figures, and appended to our submissions during the second comment period.

Ok you made your point, so who actually cares besides the people?

To be honest everyone but Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Governor Burgum of North Dakota States “Removing these horses from the park, or reducing the herd size to a level that fails to support genetic diversity and longevity, would strike a blow not only to park visitation but also to the economic vitality of Medora, nearby communities including Dickinson, and our entire state. Data compiled for our state Tourism Division shows TRNP was the top point of interest for travelers in our state last year, accounting for 770,000 trips – more than half of those being visitors from out of state. In Billings County, home to Medora and the South Unit, visitor spending totaled more than $16 million in 2021.”

US Senator Hoeven of North Dakota also states: “We have heard an outpouring of concerns from North Dakotans regarding the Park Service’s plan to remove the wild horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” said Hoeven. “We convened this meeting to directly relay these concerns to the Park Service leadership and to press them to work with us to maintain a herd of wild horses at the park. We’ll continue working with Governor Burgum and our state’s leadership to find a solution to keep a herd of wild horses now and into the future.”  

North Dakota legislators, both the House and Senate swiftly rallied to save the herd with the tools they had available to them. They quickly and unanimously created and passed the ND Senate Concurrent Resolution SCR 4014 and immediately sent it to the United States Secretary of the Interior, and the Director of the National Park Service.

The United Tribes of North Dakota, which include the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, the Spirit Lake Tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Three Affiliated Tribes, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, were not far behind and did not waste any time crafting their own resolutions to send to park management.  Again, passing with no hesitation as they hold horses in high esteem. As they state, horses are significant to their people and have played a major role in their history, tradition and culture.

The gateway to TRNP is Medora, ND. Medora is a small community of 121 permanent residents. Medora’s city council passed their own resolution to stand with the horses.  The community understands the hit they will take historically and financially if this herd is removed. For their community is steeped in the traditions of the west and relies heavily on the ties to that bygone era this wild herd of  horses represent.

It’s obvious the state of North Dakota stands with this herd for they understand this herd is an  intangible cultural heritage to their state. Unfortunately these horses and their families and all of the human hearts that have been impacted by this wild herd, still need your help.

On the last two pages of the draft EA it is mentioned that certain solutions will not be considered. WLWH believes there is still a case for these. If you present any of the below in your comments, please suggest new information that goes back to the purpose and need (the P&N can be found on page 5). This herd must stay a viable genetic herd, to thrive.

  1. Nonreproductive Herds Permanently Maintained in the Park
  2. Reproductive Herds Maintained in the Park
  3. Allow for a Minimum of 150 Horses in the Herd to Maintain Genetic Diversity
  4. Manage a Reproductive and Nonreproductive Herd in Separate Areas
  5. Manage a Herd for Historical and Cultural Significance
  6. Manage a Nonreproductive Herd at Elkhorn Ranch

As we stated before if you use these solutions in your comments please suggest new information that goes back to the purpose and need. We believe that some of these are still relevent. This herd must stay a viable genetic herd to thrive.

Wild Lands, Wild Horses come to each of you with a deep and undeniable love for these horses. This wild herd has been threatened before by park management. It’s time for all of us to stand up and make our voices heard and find a permanent solution so these unsuspecting and innocent horses and their families are not faced with eradication again. We are their great human herd!

What You Can Do

Now that you understand the significance of this battle, you may be wondering how you can contribute to the cause. Here are some actions you can take: 

Participate in Comment Periods: The Environmental Assessment (EA) was released by the National Park Service, make your voice heard by submitting written comments in support of preserving this historic herd of wild horses located in TRNP. Visit to comment and learn more. The deadline is October 25th, 2023! We need 1 million people to comment. We can do this!

Raise Awareness: Be like that pesky mosquito and bug and share information about this specific herd with your friends and social networks. The more people who know about their plight and the threat of being eradicated from their home, the stronger the support for the preservation of our culture and history and saving the lives of these wild horses will become.

Contact Your Representatives: Reach out to your local and state representatives, urging them to support the preservation of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s wild horses.

Donate: Consider contributing to organizations that are actively working to specifically protect  this herd of wild horses and their habitat.

Visit the Park: If possible, plan a trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park to witness the beauty and significance of these wild horses firsthand. Your visit can help demonstrate the importance of their presence. Let the park know why you are visiting. They will not ask.

In conclusion, the battle for the preservation of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s wild horses is not just a local issue—it’s a global one. These horses have touched the hearts of literally millions of people since 1947, and their presence in the park is a testament to the wild spirit of nature. It’s up to all of us to ensure that they continue to roam freely in their home amidst the badlands, rolling buttes, and vast prairies of North Dakota.

We’d like to thank the state of North Dakota, the community of Medora, the United Tribes of North Dakota, along with the groups who are fighting for this herd — Dakota Grown, Wild In North Dakota, North Dakota Badlands Horse, Wild at Heart Images, American Wild Horse Campaign, and Chasing Horses. In addition, we want to thank the thousands of photographers locally and from around the world who bring us their undeniable beauty, their gutsy stories, and their struggles against the natural elements and man himself!