(February 26, 2020) Five years ago, working together with our local coalition partner the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG), we prevented the mass roundup, removal and slaughter of the famed Salt River wild horses in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. In 2016, the state passed a law to protect the horses in their historic habitat along the lower Salt River.
This month, a new bill, HB 2858, was introduced in the Arizona House of Representatives by Rep. Kelly Townsend. HB 2858 seeks to amend the original Salt River horse protection bill. While some provisions of the bill are positive, Section 1, subsection D of the bill mandates that human interaction, including feeding, be limited to preserve the "wild nature" of the horses. However the terms "limited" and "wild nature" are not defined and the language appears to conflict with subsection C of the bill, which authorizes interaction with the herd if necessary "to protect the safety or health of a horse that is or horses that are part of the Salt River horse herd or the public" so long as it is approved by the Arizona Department of Agriculture or the county sheriff.
Pursuant to the original law, the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) contracts with the SRWHMG to provide humane management, critical aspects of which could be prohibited by HB 2858. These include:
- Rescuing horses with life-threatening injuries or orphaned foals within an emergency time window. The bill currently requires the approval of the governor and posting on the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) website before a horse is removed, even in cases of emergency. For emergency rescues, such delay will result in the suffering and death of horses.
- Supplemental feeding is sometimes necessary to maintain the body condition of the horses in times of drought and range stress. Without this feeding when necessary, the horses will become thin, making the mass removal of the horses from their habitat more likely. The bill limits human interaction, including supplemental feeding.
- Fertility control is vital to keeping the horses in the wild by reducing the size of the population humanely over time. As currently written, the bill is vaguely worded and the undefined requirement to “maintain their wild nature” could be interpreted to prevent this type of management.
In a Feb. 20, 2020 hearing on HB 2858 before the Land & Agriculture Committee, Rep. Townsend was asked if her bill would block supplemental feeding and fertility control. She replied "no," but has been unwilling to amend her bill to ensure that lifesaving management would not be prohibited. She even rejected a request from her own co-sponsor, Rep. Jay Lawrence, to amend the bill so that it did not undermine the original legislation! In response, Rep. Lawrence wrote:
“At this moment, Rep. Townsend will not include the needed amendment, therefore I have notified her that I will remove my support of the bill. I was proud of my initial endorsement of the bill, but I can no longer support it in its current form and will be withdrawing as a co-sponsor.”
The Land & Agriculture Committee passed AB 2858 out of committee, although the Chairman Rep. Timothy Dunn, acknowledged problems with the bill and committed to continuing to work to amend it to address them. The bill is now in the Rules Committee, which chaired by House Speaker Rusty Bowers.
Thanks to all the AWHC and SRWHMG Arizona supporters who have called and written in opposition to the bill. The grassroots pressure is working to prevent this dangerous bill from moving forward!