Arizona Lawmakers Want State Control of Salt River Wild Horses

by , The Republic |

“These horses belong to the land, they were here before us.”

Arizona would assert ownership of the controversial and wildly loved Salt River wild horse herd under a bill that advanced from a state House federalism and states’ rights committee on Wednesday.

A Salt River horse and foal graze at Butcher Jones Recreational Area in Tonto National Forest located near Mesa on Thursday, August 6, 2015.(Photo: Isaac Hale / The Republic)
A Salt River horse and foal graze at Butcher Jones Recreational Area in Tonto National Forest located near Mesa on Thursday, August 6, 2015.(Photo: Isaac Hale / The Republic)

The horses — 100 or so of them — attracted an outpouring of support from horse lovers last summer when the U.S. Forest Service announced it would round them up and sell them to protect the river and forest environment near Mesa. The protests included calls from Arizona’s congressional delegation, and federal land managers backed down.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, introduced House Bill 2340 to claim state ownership and the ability to manage the herd. She also filed a companion bill, House Bill 2572, to establish a committee to study the herd’s environmental effects. Both bills advanced in committee Wednesday.

“These horses belong to the land,” Townsend said. “They were here before us.”

Her intent is to ensure federal agents won’t remove the horses, she said, and that the state’s livestock experts can manage them. That would include vaccination and other veterinary care when needed, or population controls.

The horse lovers who packed the hearing room, though, mostly opposed the bills because they want to keep up the pressure on federal land managers to preserve the herd. They told the committee they fear that future state administrations could decide to eliminate the horses, and that there’s no guarantee that potential state sales of excess horses won’t go to those who intend to slaughter them.

They want federal recognition of the horses as a wild herd worthy of federal protections — something Townsend said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has rejected.

Some of the horse advocates argued passionately that they be left alone, even from roundups for vaccinations. Horse lover Richard Bernard, of Phoenix, said the horses are part of God’s creation and must be preserved.

“We will stand before our creator and we will give an account of what we did here with our public lands and resources,” he said. “We don’t need to demonize the horses.”

Environmentalists including the Maricopa Audubon Society have argued that the horses chew up willow shoots and other vegetation important to endangered native species, including the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Technically the horses are in a legal blind spot, left unprotected under a 1971 federal horse management act because, at the time, they were considered feral bands instead of a long-established wild herd. Their removal by federal authorities could therefore be similar to removal of cattle illegally grazing on public lands, rather than managing them for a continuing presence.

Although horse supporters said they believed federal officials could be pressured to maintain the herd, Townsend said she wants to avoid federal roundups such as what the Bureau of Land Management conducts across the West. Those roundups frequently anger horse advocates who want the horses in the wild instead of at federal corrals.

Townsend amended the bill on Wednesday to provide for a safe migration corridor around the river.

The bill advanced on a 5-2 vote.


  1. Interesting that this bill came up today. I was just at Triple A this morning getting maps and whatnot…planning my summer vacation. These horses are part of this years agenda for me.

    Simone told us last summer that these horses could be a tourism attraction. Not like Disneyland but a reason to care about the environment and the horses. You rent a tube and go tubing along the Salt River. Apparently these horses can come out from the brush to walk into the water, plunge their faces in up to their eyes and graze the bottom of the river. They have marvelous adaptions!

    A GREAT added bonus is the Salt River is rated beginner. You don’t have to worry about white water tubing. It’s very gentle. Bring plenty of suntan lotion, water and a hat to protect your head and face from the sun!

    I want to learn more about these horses!




    To begin with why was the word “slaughter” included here at all? What if the division is filled with welfare ranchers, horse meat industry mouthpieces and anti horse yahoos like Duquette or Wallis? Does section C means that it would be eventually OK to slaughter them when deemed “convenient”? The answer is “YES”, because those behind this bill believe slaughter is a “management tool” like in the old days of Beltex and mustanging that put wild horses in the brink of extinction.

    This bill an extremely bad idea and will nothing but open the door for all the pro-ranching slaughter fanboys and nutcases in AZ to eventually kill them away.

    I can’t help but feel Townsend is using them as a tool to fuel the otherwise bogus state vs federal debate and push an ideological agenda that has nothing to do with the protection of these unique wild horses.

    The bill will be now placed in calendar ib the House. Everybody must contact all AZ state representatives and ask them to vote no on HB 2340. We must stop this now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. State Rep. Kelly Townsend is pushing for the Salt River horses to be under control of the state and if that happens the AZ Dept of Ag will oversee the management of the horses. Now keep in mind the director of AZ Dept of Ag, Mark Killian is the person who recently attended a pro-welfare rancher meeting and is quoted as stating, “And the thing that’s most important for the ranchers right now is that the horse numbers go up they’re going to cut the number of cattle off these allotments. And if this continues on, pretty soon there won’t be any ranchers left on these allotments. It’ll be just like it is in Nevada where they’ve got hundreds of thousands of horses running all over the place creating all kinds of problems. And so we’re working with the Forest Service to see if we can’t find a solution. But ultimately in my opinion we’re going to have to go back into court and prove to the court that these horses are not original…”

    NOW Kelly Townsend is working with Killian to help make her bills regarding the Salt River horses stronger. Kelly by the way is a states’ rights person. I believe she is head of that committee in AZ … not to mention that in 2014 she even showed up in Nevada in support of Cliven Bundy.

    This so-called “plan” will also set a precedent for any and all wild horses who might wander off their designated herd area or territory. So when they are off their herd area/territory Killian and the AZ Dept. of AG could argue that they have no more federal protection than the unbranded, unclaimed Salt River horses that live in the Tonto National Forest because of this precedent set by the Salt River horses going to the state.

    IMHO Killian overseeing wild horses is akin to a pedophile managing a daycare and this whole thing is a circus and the horses stand to lose out to the clowns.


    • Well said. She is just hijacking the horses to peddle her Finnicum rights agenda and bundite mumbo-jumbo. She thinks we are a bunch of weekend warriors that will forget soon about this so her pals can bring the trucks and set up their own mini Tom Davies schemes. Let’s prove her wrong.

      BTW, the bill is incredibly bad redacted. It doesn’t provide definitions as to what is a Salt River horse or the division or the exact penalties established for violations. It is a botch.

      Also, as far as I know nobody has formally petitioned USDA -less so Vilsack- about this and, anyhow, it will only take a federal bill (that may be introduced by Grijalva) to amend the WFHBA to include the Salt River as an HA under the WFHBA.


  4. I just got done watching the meeting. It’s about one hour thirty minutes, but it is well worth a watch:

    It’s like one person said — I believe it was Simone Netherlands: kill buyers don’t show up to auctions telling everyone that they’re kill buyers, they bring their kids to make themselves look less suspicious. And part 3 of the provision seems to indicate that horses may be removed IF the state gets written authorization from the Animal Services Division. None of us want removals.

    I get the impression that Rep. Townsend trusts the state with protecting the wild horses more than the federal government due to the BLM’s horrible mismanagement practices such as slaughter and whatnot, but the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act isn’t the problem, later amendments to the Act such as the Burns Amendment are. Even with those in place, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the bill that she is sponsoring is not solid. The protections under her bill need to be AT LEAST as good, if not, better at ensuring the protection and preservation of our wild horses than the 1971 federal law. I don’t see that at this point in time. Until she can prove that it is, I cannot support it. I hope that she recognizes the danger of passing a bill without a strong foundation. “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” – Calvin Coolidge


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