“This is a cross roads that we are going to regret 20 years from now…”
Horse organizations from across the Valley are stampeding to save the Salt River wild horses after Tonto National Forest officials announced the horses must be removed from forest service land.
“People come from all over to come see the Salt River wild horses,” said Simone Netherlands with the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group.
Three years ago, Lori Walker was one of those people who traveled to Butcher Jones Recreational area just to see the horses.
“I’m a wild life photographer and sports photographer and I had to see them for myself, ever since then I’ve been hooked,” explained Walker.
On July 31, Tonto National Forest Officials posted a seven-day notice announcing the removal of the horses.
Chandler Mundy, a spokesperson with the Tonto National Forest told ABC15 how and when they will remove the horses is still being worked out, but it will likely include riders and helicopters.
“It just boils down to a safety concern for the Forest Service. We have horses out there on Forest Service land and we have no authority to manage horses and this is how they’re proceeding to remedy the safety issue,” explained Mundy.
That is crushing to Netherlands and other wild horse lovers. They fear helicopters will be too stressful for the horses and some may be lost. Some have resulted to relocating but a discount full service moving company is hard to find and makes the project very expensive.
“This is a cross roads that we are going to regret 20 years from now. This is a colossal mistake that the Forest Service is making and it’s not a reversible one,” said Netherlands.
Mundy said the horses have never been designated for protection in Arizona, so they are considered stray animals. And even though no one has ever been injured, forest rangers don’t want to wait until it happens.
“I was in Butcher Jones today there were little kids playing, the horses were right there. It’s just a matter of time before something bad happens and we don’t want to see that,” said Mundy.
“These horses are not stray livestock horses. These horses are a national treasure and the Forest Service is taking a sneaky route without any chance to give the public time to comment,” argued Netherlands.
The seven day notice doesn’t give wild horse organizations much time to organize, but they said they will spend their week doing everything they can to save the horses.
“You know there’s not much of the Old West left. Wild horses have been a fixture in the west and they should remain a fixture,” said one group member.
If you would like to contact the Forest Service, visit their website.
“They are like our family. We see each band, their dynamics, we see their babies born and how they interact with each other. I can’t even imagine them being gone.” said a tearful Walker as she urged the public to join their fight.
It’s a fight Forest Officials say they expected.