Take Action to Save the Salt River Horses

As 2020 has begun and the future is upon us, we need to urgently let you know that the fight for the protection of the famed Salt River wild horses in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest is not over.

  • The threats: harmful, poorly planned fences and long-term management proposals, developed in a flawed “collaborative process” that took place last year.
  • The potential impacts: Large-scale removal of wild horses from the Tonto National Forest, severe reductions in horses’ habitat, and blocking of horses from habitat crucial to their survival.
  • The antidote: Public opposition and action for the future of the Salt River herd.

The American Wild Horse Campaign and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group are declaring the week of Jan. 13th “Salt River Wild Horse Week” (Save #SaltRiverHorses) please take one action a day or all in one day to in support of these historic and cherished horses! We will ask the Forest Service to nix the badly planned boundary fence, we will ask MCDOT to build an overpass, and will ask AZDA to choose Proposal 2 for the long term management of the Salt River wild horses. 

Photo by Eileen Coughlan


The Salt River horses are protected by state legislation, signed by AZ Governor Doug Ducey in 2017, 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 directs the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) to enter into an agreement with the Forest Service for the 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.

The state law and the unique public/private partnership has been a great success. The future of the Salt River horses, however, is again in jeopardy. In fact, Salt River wild horses now face new threats, which if implemented, would severely harm their way of life and could lead to their destruction as a viable herd. The Salt River horses once again need your voice, so please read on and take action below.

The Fence We Oppose

fenceThe Forest Service intends to build a metal fence right along the last four miles of the Lower Salt River -- including across the river itself! The fence will block the wild horses from accessing their critical river and historic habitats on both sides of the river. Horses on one side of the fence will be trapped on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and horses on the other side in the Tonto National Forest will be blocked from their water source, potentially causing dehydration and death! Worse, the Forest Service announced today that it will begin to build this deadly fence this week!

The fence will have terrible consequences not only for the horses but also for recreationalists who will now have to pass through a gate/fence when tubing or kayaking down the lower Salt River. Additionally, by cutting the Salt River horses off from half of their habitat, the fence violates state law that protects the horses “where they have historically lived.”

Despite the fence’s impacts, the Forest Service never performed required environmental analysis or gave the public an opportunity to weigh in on the controversial project by participating in the approval process.

Additional fencing along Bush Hwy will, when closed, will cut off horses from the entire south side of Bush Hwy, almost half of their historic habitat. While we share the goal of keeping horses out of the roadway, we believe this is a bad plan. It will result in severe concentration of horses exactly where most people are, putting people and horses on a course to collision, making future wild horse removals highly likely. We have advocated for a wildlife overpass (below) over Bush Hwy as a solution, but this is NOT currently included in the fencing plan.

We believe both fences that cut off the Salt River wild horses off from half of their historic habitat are not consistent with the state law that protects the Salt River wild horses, which mandates that they are protected “where they have historically lived.”

Photo by Eileen Coughlan

The Management Proposals

Simultaneously the horses are facing another serious threat posed by the outcome of a misleading process called a “Collaborative”, which was initiated and paid for by the Forest Service. The collaborative was billed as a stakeholder process and was conducted last year with the stated goal of developing a management plan for the Salt River horses. In reality, this process was stacked with anti-wild horse stakeholders and was designed to create a plan that would severely reduce the population and habitat of the Salt River horses.

YOU, the public who loves the horses, had no opportunity to participate in the process to develop a permanent management plan for them.

The collaborative process produced three potential management plans, two of which include large-scale REMOVALS of horses on top of the severe HABITAT REDUCTIONS.

Only one proposal protects the horses. That proposal (Proposal 2) was submitted by the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group  and AWHC. As participants in the collaborative, we vigorously opposed the anti horse plans through our presentations, documentations and in our final letter to the collaborative, which you can read below.

Our proposal includes gradual reduction of the herd size through humane PZP birth control, along with clearly defined rules to protect horses from harassment and construction of an overpass across Bush Hwy to permanently eliminate horse-vehicle collisions and facilitate safe access for the horses to their grazing grounds

Currently, these proposals are on the desk of the AZDA, which will decide on a final management plan.