Controversial Proposal to Protect Salt River Wild Horses Moves Forward

“I cannot add these horses to the [Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros] Act.”

A controversial proposal to give the Arizona Department of Agriculture authority over a herd of horses that runs free along the Salt River will be debated on the floor of the Legislature, it was decided today.

A free-roaming mare plays with her one-day-old foal near the Salt River in Arizona.  Photo by Elizabeth Stuart
A free-roaming mare plays with her one-day-old foal near the Salt River in Arizona.
Photo by Elizabeth Stuart

The Federalism and States’ Rights Committee voted 5-2 to move House Bill 2340 on to the next step — consideration by the full House of Representative — after more than an hour of debate.

The bill is State Representative Kelly Townsend’s solution to a months-long tussle over the horses’ management that began in August when the U.S. Forest Service announced it intended to round them up and auction them off. In response to fervent public outcry (to the tune, officials report, of 60,000 or so e-mails from all over the world), the Forest Service has since abandoned the plan. However, the agency still maintains it does not have authority to manage the horses and, therefore, their future remains uncertain.

Across the country, the Bureau of Land Management is responsible for regulating wild horses under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which makes it illegal to harass or kill them. But the BLM has not officially recognized the herd as “wild,” so its’ members are considered feral livestock and, therefore, unprotected.

Townsend (R-Mesa) argued state management was the best way forward because, she said, it would “take an act of Congress” to add the Salt River horses to the BLM’s roll.

“I cannot write a law at the federal level,” she said. “I cannot add these horses to the [Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros] Act.”

The bill’s opponents, most notably the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, a nonprofit organization that has been tracking the herd for more than 17 years and voluntarily helping with management for nearly 4, vehemently rejected Townsend’s assertion that a federal solution would require legislation, contending that the Forest Service is authorized to care for the herd under another law, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960.

The group had been negotiating the point with the Forest Service, but talks were put on hold after Townsend introduced H.B. 2340, Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, testified at the committee hearing.

She urged legislators, instead, to pass a resolution pressuring the federal government to take responsibility for the horses’ management, which the group estimates could cost between $400,000 and $500,000.

“It is their responsibility,” she said. “Why would we shift that responsibility to the Arizona taxpayers? This is not going to cost nothing.”

Netherlands specifically expressed concern about giving the Arizona Department of Agriculture authority over the herd, arguing that they would be treated as livestock — and not wild animals.

The bill makes it a crime for the general public to take or kill one of the horses, but it does not prohibit the Department of Agriculture from rounding the horses up for sterilization, immunizations, or slaughter. It does not stipulate that the horses be allowed to stay on their current stomping grounds.

“We want the horses managed with minimal human interference in a way that maintains natural herd dynamics,” she said.

Several dozen people attended the meeting to voice their opinion on the bill. Some expressed solidarity with Netherlands and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, others took the pulpit to thank Townsend for proactively moving to protect the herd.

As they explained their votes, State Representative Mark Finchem and State Representative Bob Thorpe, who both voiced support for bill, took issue with the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group’s philosophy on herd management.

Finchem argued that it would be necessary to round the horses up to test them for diseases that could potentially spread to humans. Thorpe suggested the state would need to approach the horses’ management in the same way it had approached other “feral animals,” such as cats and dogs, by “spaying and neutering and putting chips in them.”

They, along with most of the legislators who sided with Townsend, noted that the proposal was a “work in progress.”

State Representative Bruce Wheeler (D-Tucson) told Townsend he shared “many of the concerns” voiced during the meeting, but felt compelled to give her a chance.

“I wasn’t going to back this,” he said, “but I want to give you an opportunity to see what you can do on the floor.”

After the vote was tallied, a few people in the packed room wiped away tears.

Townsend committed to do her best for the horses.

“If at any time this bill comes into a snag that makes me uncomfortable … we’ll kill it — you can have my word on that,” she said. “I do think, however, that we are going in the right direction.”


  1. That Law was already passed and it is STILL the Law
    From the U.S. Forest Service web page

    Why do we manage wild free-roaming horses and burros?

    The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed, unanimously, through Congress and signed by former President Nixon on December 15, 1971. It became Public Law 92-195, which protects wild horses and burros within designated territories on both Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. This law mandates that these horses and burros are managed in a thriving ecological balance with the land and as part of the natural landscape

    “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.” -Public Law 92-195


  2. People are not listening and think just because the DOI/BLM/U.S. Forestry Service do not claim or care about these horses these are FEDERALLY CONTROLLED horses by DEFAULT!

    “The Forest Service is authorized to care for the herd under another law, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960”

    Any animal living on Federal lands, wild, feral or released fall under the jurisdiction of the DOI/ BLM no matter if the DOI/BLM/ U.S. Forestry Service claims them or not, this is the law!!!! So by default they are the DOI’s property now and have been far a very long time!!!!

    It is ALL about money and when the BLM realizes that they can receive EXTRA funding from the D.C. to take over these horses they will take control of them. When the BLM takes control no one will have a EASY say what happens to them. We have been fighting the BLM for decades and finally got them into a court room and even after several positive rulings against the DOI the BLM is still violating the law by illegally rounding up the Mustang/Wild Horse and sending them to holding pens and then to slaughtering houses matter how loud we are shouting! NO ONE of authority is stopping them either and they won’t at least not for the foreseeable future!

    So I do pray this Bill passes and the DOI does not make a stand to fight it but I do not see that happening! This current Washington bureaucracy will not allow any other state or local agency to take away something that is “theirs”!!!


  3. Selling Off Apache Holy Land

    The swap – which will trade 5,300 acres of private parcels owned by the company to the Forest Service and give 2,400 acres including Oak Flat to Resolution so that it can mine the land without oversight – had been attempted multiple times by Arizona members of Congress on behalf of the company. (Among those involved was Rick Renzi, a former Republican representative who was sent to federal prison in February for three years for corruption related to earlier versions of the land-transfer deal.) It always failed in Congress because of lack of support. But this time was different. This time, the giveaway language was slipped onto the defense bill by Senators JOHN McCAIN and
    JEFF FLAKE of Arizona at the 11th hour.
    The tactic was successful only because, like most last-minute riders, it bypassed public scrutiny.

    It’s worth noting that Rio Tinto affiliates have been McCAIN campaign contributors, and that Mr. FLAKE, before he made it to Congress, was a paid lobbyist for Rio Tinto Rössing Uranium (a huge uranium mine in Namibia). Mr. McCain and others assert that the mining project will be a boost to the local economy, though it’s unclear how many of the 1,400 promised jobs would be local; a Superior-area miners’ group, in fact, opposes the swap on the basis that it won’t help the local people or economy. Rio Tinto, incidentally, has been called out in the past for environmental devastation.

    The truth is that for
    Mr. McCAIN,
    Mr. FLAKE
    and others who would allow this precious public land to be destroyed, it’s not only the Indians who are invisible. The rest of us are also ghosts, remnants of a quaint idea of democracy.

    The deal is an impressive new low in congressional corruption, unworthy of our country’s ideals no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. It’s exactly the kind of cynical maneuvering that has taught the electorate to disrespect politicians – a disdain for government that hurts everyone. If ever there was a time for Congress to prove its moral mettle to the public, this is that time.


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