Inquiry into wild-horse shooting uncovers no leads

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News,Business,Crime,Animals

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Despite thousands of dollars in reward money and months of searching, an investigation into the shooting of six wild horses in central Oregon has come up dry.

No one has stepped forward with a tip solid enough to lead to the arrest and conviction of those responsible, even with a reward of nearly $10,000, The Bulletin reported Friday (http://bit.ly/O73Buj ).

"We are still desperate for information," Patrol Capt. Dan Smith of the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday. Smith is the top law enforcement officer for the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests.

The horses were all part of the Big Summit Wild Horse Herd. Three were found on Oct. 1, two dead and one wounded that later had to be euthanized. Another three were discovered dead on Oct. 18. Investigators believe they were all shot at the same time in the Ochoco National Forest, about 30 miles east of Prineville.

Horses are protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. They remain a point of controversy in the West, where cattlemen and hunters oppose their imposition on the feeding grounds of elk and livestock.

"I would say that I think it was a deliberate act," said Gayle Hunt, president of the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition in Prineville. "It was not random."

Her coalition and other animal welfare groups and contributors combined to offer the reward.

Bill Wilber, wildlife chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, is critical of wild horses on public land but doesn't condone shooting the animals.

"That's unfortunate, and that is not right," said Wilber, a cattleman from Burns. "And that is not the way to solve the problem."

He prefers to call the animals "feral horses" rather than wild horses, saying they do more damage to the range than elk or cattle.

"They eat more forage, they destroy more habitat . than the cows, the wildlife, all of them put together," Wilber said. "So the feral-horses debate is a big deal."

The shootings weren't the first in recent years in the Ochoco National Forest. In March 2011, six wild horses were found fatally shot, a case that also remains unsolved. The shooting scenes from 2011 and last fall are about 10 or 15 miles from each other.

The Big Summit Wild Horse Herd originated from horses either let loose or that escaped from nearby ranches in the 1920s, said Tory Kurtz, rangeland management specialist with the Ochoco forest.

They now roam about 42 square miles of the forest. Each summer, there is a survey of the herd, Kurtz said, and last June it had 110 horses.

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