(photo: Salt River Wild Horse Management Group)
by EJ Montini
The wild horses of the Salt River have a safe refuge. If only they knew to go there.
Perhaps they’ll sense it.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community already has wild horses on its tribal land. They know the value living wild and free, and they know as well, as all native people know, what it is like to have one’s boundaries defined by the federal government. On Tuesday, after learning that the U.S. Forest Service planned to institute a program that would remove the horses from the Salt and Verde Rivers northeast of Mesa the tribe issued the following statement:
“On Monday August 3, 2015 the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) was made aware of an extensive operation by the United States Forest Service (USFS) to remove wild free-roaming horses from lands under the jurisdiction of the Tonto National Forest, this includes areas on the Salt and Verde Rivers beginning Friday August 7, 2015.
“The SRPMIC tribal land is adjacent to the Tonto National Forest on its eastern boundary. The Salt and Verde rivers also lie at the Community’s eastern edge. While the Community is happy to work with agencies on the management of wild free-roaming horses it was unaware of the USFS planned actions. Neither the Community nor its staff participated in the planning of the roundup or have attended a Feral Horse Working Group which has been erroneously reported in the media.
“Since the 1970s the SRPMIC has had an active Wild Free-Roaming Horse Ordinance that recognizes their contribution to the diversity of the Community while enriching the lives of people. At any given time, there are approximately 60 wild free-roaming horses in the river area within the tribal boundaries of the Community near the Salt and Verde Rivers. Additionally, the Community has a Northern Range herd that has approximately 180 wild horses within the range area of the Community. If a wild free-roaming horse is within the Community boundaries, it is subject to the Community’s ordinance for protection. ”
Protection, particularly from the government, is something the animals shouldn’t need. But they do.
The horses already have on their side the dedicated and energetic members of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, which has been rallying public support for allowing the animals to remain where they are.
The Forest Services is feeling the heat.
Tonto spokeswoman Carrie Templin on Tuesday said the Forest Service would not initiate the round-up Friday and that there was no specific timeline for the removal of the horses.
She did make the argument, however, that removal was necessary for the horses safety, owing to the danger of accidents on the Bush highway.
The problem with that argument is the Forest Service’s own notice of removal, which read in part: “All impounded animals not redeemed within 5 days after notice of sale of impounded livestock has been published in a local newspaper, posted in the county court house and in one or more local post offices, will be offered for sale at public auction. Livestock not sold at public sale may be sold at private sale or condemned and destroyed, or otherwise disposed of…”
I’d guess the horse would prefer to take their chances crossing the highway than with a public auction. And I’d guess that the majority of motorists who travel that road would agree.
In the meantime, here’s hoping as many horses as possible find their way to Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribal land, where wild horses living free and unencumbered lives are not a threat or a burden but appreciated for “enriching the lives of people.”