LINTON, N.D. (AP) — The official North Dakota horse could be wiped off the state map.
A conservancy group says high hay prices caused by a prolonged drought and a sharp drop in donations have combined to limit food supplies and threaten breeding herds for the Nokota horse, which originated in what is now Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
"This is one of the most difficult situations we've been in since the formation of the conservancy," said Shelly Hauge, the executive director of the Nokota Horse Conservancy, which was established in 1999. "While it's never been easy, it hasn't been the struggle it's been this year."
The group believes the dwindling hay supply could force the dispersal of the herd, which is now pastured in fields near Linton, the Forum reported (http://bit.ly/17e7sN7 ). That would mean the loss of valuable breeding stock.
The horse is descended from Plains Indian horses, including ponies confiscated from Sitting Bull's band when it surrendered in 1881, and ranch stock. The Nokota horse was recognized as the North Dakota honorary state equine in 1993.
"The Nokota breed may well be those distinct horses descended from Sioux Chief Sitting Bull's war ponies," the proclamation states. "Some still run wild in Theodore Roosevelt National Park."
The conservancy owns 118 horses, representing the rarest bloodlines of the breed. Brothers Leo and Frank Kuntz also have private Nokota herds, each with about 175 horses. Combined, the three herds form the breeding nucleus.
Several factors have combined to make hay scarcer and therefore more expensive, including the prolonged drought. High corn prices have meant conservation acres have been converted to cropland, leaving less ground to grow hay, said Frank Kuntz, the conservancy's executive vice president.
Many nonprofits are finding it more difficult to attract significant donations because of the sluggish economy, Hauge said. One big donor recently came through with a contribution, although smaller than normal, she said.
The North Dakota Legislature this year passed a resolution urging the National Park Service to work to preserve the Nokota breed.
"They survived all these years for a reason," Frank Kuntz said. "They're tough, hardy, smart horses."
Information from: The Forum, http://www.in-forum.com