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Ochoco National Forest plans big reduction in Big Summit wild horses herd

Draft decision out for review; some will be up for adoption

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Big Summit Wild Horse Territory on the Ochoco National Forest features the only herd of wild horses in the Pacific Northwest managed completely by the U.S. Forest Service.

It’s also possibly the most well-known place to see wild horses in Central Oregon.

"Seeing these horses on the landscape is really quite magnificent," Ochoco National Forest Public Affairs Officer Kassidy Kern told NewsChannel 21 on Thursday.

But there's a problem.

"The herd that we have out there right now is considerably larger than the analysis shows it probably should be," Kern said.

She said there are about 135 horses wandering the 25,000-acre territory.

Kern said there is a wild horse management plan, but it's been a while since the one for Big Summit has been updated.

"The last time this was done for this particular herd was in 1975, so it's quite outdated," she said.

That's why the Forest Service released a draft of new management plan earlier this month.

In this new draft decision, the Forest Service determined the optimal number of horses for the area to hold is between 12 and 57, and they're focusing on maintaining a number near the higher end of that range -- still, less than half the current number who roam the area.

The draft decision calls for the Forest Service to trap some of the horses and put them up for adoption. They will also use approved forms of contraceptives on some of the remaining horses.

"We want to make sure those animals are healthy,” Kern said. “And part of that means maintaining a herd that the ground can reasonably hold."

The Forest Service can also euthanize some of the horses, to achieve what it considers a healthy population for the horses and the land they run on, but there are no plans to do so right now.

The draft decision is now under review, and some members of the public can file objections.

"Folks who have been part of this process,” Kern said, “folks who have been commenting on this process have standing to look at this document have standing to send us comments to be included on the final record."

The final decision is expected sometime early next year.

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Jack Hirsh

Jack Hirsh is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jack here.

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