By Pat Raia, The Horse
Arizona's Salt River feral horse herd would be protected by local law enforcement and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) authorities under legislation passed by that state’s Senate earlier this month.
Since 1971, Congress has federally protected wild mustangs and placed them under the Bureau of Land Management’s jurisdiction. However, feral horses—such as the Salt River herd—derived from domestic horses that were turned out or escaped their owners are not covered by the federal law.
The Salt River herd gained national attention in August 2015 when the USFS said it would impound unauthorized horses found roaming the Tonto National Forest’s Salt River area on grounds that the animals presented a public safety hazard when they crossed highways and recreation areas. The USFS later agreed to indefinitely postpone the impound until an alternative solution could be found.
In January, State Representative Kelly Townsend introduced HB 2340, which criminalizes injury to the horses and placed them under the jurisdiction of local authorities.
Specifically, the legislation, as engrossed, makes it unlawful to harass, shoot, injure, or slaughter a Salt River horse and places the animals under Maricopa County Sheriff's Department and USFS jurisdiction. The legislation also states that no one can capture or euthanize a member of the herd without written authorization from either of those agencies; the agencies can only grant permission when their authorization for humane purposes.
In February, he Arizona House of Representatives approved HB 2340 and advanced it to the state Senate, which approved the legislation by a 27-2 margin in April.
In a written statement on the organization's website, Salt River Wild Horse Management Group President Simone Netherlands said the law ensures the long term protection of the Salt River herd.
“It’s been a long struggle, and it’s definitely gratifying to see our Senators almost unanimously reflecting the will of the public by voting to preserve this very important historic, economic, and recreational resource for future generations to come,” Netherlands said.
The legislation now moves back to the House for the final approval of Senate amendments. If passed, it will move on for Governor Doug Ducey's signature in to law.