By The Daily Courier
PHOENIX - The Tonto National Forest will permanently drop plans to round up and remove wild horses near Salt River after months of public pressure and backlash.
The Forest Service delayed its original plans to remove nearly 100 of the free-roaming horses in August. Tonto National Forest Spokeswoman Carrie Templin says the new date for removal would have been Dec. 18, but the Forest Service officially withdrew its impound notice Friday, Dec. 11.
According to Templin, the service hopes to focus instead on creating a long-term management plan.
Efforts on Friday to reach Salt River Wild Horse Management Group Simone Netherlands were not successful. However, the Associated Press reported she's grateful that a decision was made before the holidays.
At one point this summer Netherlands, who is from Prescott, suggested moving the horses to a refuge in the Prescott area. Her group is now trying to establish a humane management plan that doesn't include removing animals and she says the conversations will continue.
"We're very happy today," declared Deniz Bolbol, communications director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, a national coalition of which the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group is a local partner. "We just applaud the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group on how it educated and rallied the public."
Through their efforts and passion, the Salt River Horses has gained a reprieve from the Forest Service allowing the animals to continue to roam the land that has been their home for more than a century.
Bolbol said the hope now is that a refuge will not need to be found because the horses are to be allowed to remain where they belong.
When it was announced in August that the Forest Service planned to relocate about 100 wild horses from the Tonto National Forest - Forest Service officials disputed that they were indigenous to the region and cited public safety as a reason for either returning them to documented owners or removing them from the land - the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group initiated a major public campaign to save the horses.
Bolbol noted the issue is not yet totally resolved as there needs to be a long-term study on these horses and their origins to come up with a management plan that makes sense to all involved.
Netherlands stated in August that her organization submitted a 50-page proposal to the Forest Service that sets a humane and sustainable management protocol for the "iconic wild horses which includes humane birth control." The organization, though, was disappointed that its ideas were not taken into consideration at that time.
Bolbol said her organization stands at the ready to support the Salt River group, and seek to find solutions that protect the horses as well as the public that lives around, or visits the national forest. Her organization has experience creating public/private partnerships to assist with the management of wild horses.
The reason for the Forest Services' change of heart? "Public pressure," Bolbol said.
"This is a huge win for democracy," Bolbol said Friday. "This is what we are as a nation at its core. Government responding to the people. The Arizona delegation, from the governor to senators to the House delegation, all responded to their constituents."
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, proved a major proponent for delaying any decision to move the horses until there was further study and a broader understanding about the impact of such a decision.
"This is what the country should be about," Bolbol said. "This is a core American value. We the people rule the country."
Concern over the horses' current location was based, in part, on vehicles hitting the animals on a nearby highway, causing deaths and damage.