Salt River Horses Threatened by New Fencing in Tonto National Forest


Mesa, AZ (January 12, 2020).... The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) today reacted to news that the Tonto National Forest intends to begin construction of a nearly four-mile, metal fence along the banks of the lower Salt River, warning that the fence will have devastating impacts to protected wild horses as well as to forest visitors.

The management group urged the Forest Service to drop plans to construct the fence and criticized its failure to disclose and analyze the boundary fence's many serious impacts, which include blocking wild horses from accessing their critical river and historic habitats on both sides of the river, creating a risk of starvation and dehydration. The fence will also harm tubers and kayakers by forcing them to pass through a gate in the fence across the river, raising public safety and aesthetic concerns.

"We are alarmed that the Forest Service did not consider the fence’s negative impacts to the Salt River wild horses, who are protected under state law, and to the thousands of kayakers, tubers, hikers and wildlife viewers, who enjoy this beautiful area of the Tonto National Forest," said Simone Netherlands, President of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. "We call on the Forest Service to suspend construction immediately and explore alternatives.”

The group is also concerned about Forest Service fencing along Bush Highway, which runs through the Tonto National Forest and the middle of the Salt River horses' habitat. While SRWHMG shares the goal of keeping horses out of the roadway, the current fencing, once closed, will cut off horses from the entire south side of Bush Highway, almost half of their historic habitat. This will result in a severe concentration of horses exactly where the most people are, putting people and horses on a course to collision, making future wild horse removals highly likely. SRWHMG has advocated for a wildlife overpass over Bush Highway as a solution, but this is NOT currently included in the fencing plan.

“We believe that cutting the Salt River wild horses off of half of their historic habitat and building fences to keep them away from the river is not consistent with the state law that protects the Salt River wild horses, which mandates that they be protected ‘where they have historically lived,’” Netherlands concluded.

Today, SRWHMG, with its national coalition partner the American Wild Horse Campaign, are launching a Week of Action to Save the #SaltRiverHorses to protest the fence and weigh in on the Arizona Department of Agriculture's pending decision on a permanent management plan for the horses (see below).

The Salt River horses are protected by a state law that protects them in their historic habitat in the Tonto National Forest and makes it illegal to harass, slaughter or kill a Salt River horse. The law made it possible for the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) to enter into an agreement with the Forest Service for management of the horses and authorizes the department to hire a third party contractor to implement management activities.

In May 2018, the state awarded the contract for management of the horses to the all-volunteer Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG), which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and volunteer hours since that time managing the horses. This includes emergency rescue when needed, supplemental feeding to keep the horses in good condition, and curbing population growth through a wide-scale humane fertility control program.

This unique public/private partnership has been successful, however, despite state law, the future of the Salt River horses is threatened by the Forest Service’s fencing plan, as well as by proposed management plans produced by the "Salt River Horse Collaborative", a biased stakeholder process convened and paid for by the Forest Service. The collaborative, which was stacked with anti-wild horse interests, produced three proposed management plans, two of which would result in severe habitat reduction and large-scale removal of wild horses from the Tonto Forest. The decision on a final management plan rests with the AZDA.

Save #SaltRiverHorses

Action #1 Contact the U.S. Forest Service

Action #2 Contact the Arizona Department of Agriculture

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