Salt River horses gain protections with Ducey bill signing

By Brahm Resnik, KPNX

May 11, 2016

The iconic Salt River horses appear to have won protection for the next year and a half from a roundup by the U.S. Forest Service, under a bill signed Wednesday by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

planned roundup last summer triggered massive proteststo protect the wild horses in their natural habitat near Saguaro Lake, in the Tonto National Forest.

Arizona legislators and members of Congress got involved, and the Forest Service indefinitely postponed the roundup. A roundup would have likely led to the horses' slaughter.

The bill signed Wednesday requires the Arizona Department of Agriculture to reach an agreement with the Forest Service on how to manage the herd of about 60 to 100 horses. The deadline for reaching that agreement is 19 months from now, on Dec. 31, 2017.

"I have a newfound respect for the Forest Service, especially (Tonto National Forest Supervisor) Neil Bosworth and his willingness to find a solution," Republican State Rep. Kelly Townsend of Mesa, who sponsored the bill, said at a Capitol news conference Wednesday.

"He said to me, 'Clearly, the public wants to keep the horses and I consider myself a public servant, and I'm going to do what the public wants.'" 

Simone Netherlands, the leader of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, which rallied horse lovers last summer to protect the Salt River herd, said the horses were still not  "out of the woods."

"The Salt River horses are almost out the woods, but not quite," she said after the news conference, adding that the herd's long-term security depends on a management agreement. 

Netherlands said the bill does protect the herd by removing their classification as "stray livestock," which left them vulnerable to removal.

"That's monumental," Netherlands said.

The Forest Service had said in the past it had no legal authority over the horses. contending they were stray animals that presented a safety hazard.

Horse advocates say the herd has lived in the Salt River habitat for 80 years or more, and has become a symbol of Arizona for visitors to the recreation area at Saguaro Lake.

Bosworth, the Tonto forest supervisor, attended the bill signing with Ducey, but wasn't available afterward. His office issued this statement: 

"I applaud Representative Townsend's efforts to get a bill passed for the state to have a role in managing the horses. I and my staff look forward to continue working with state and private partners for the future management of this unique situation regarding Salt River horses."

The bill also protects the horses from harassment, shooting or slaughter. The legislation does not take effect until there is a management agreement for the herd.

Copyright 2016 KPNX

Originally posted by KPNX