The US Forest Service has been criticized over its failure to engage with those interested in managing Arizona’s famous Salt River horses for future generations.
The federal agency caused an uproar when it advertised plans to remove the 100 or so wild horses that live along the river in Tonto National Forest.
The horses, which are known to have lived in the area for at least a century, have adapted to the local environment, and can regularly be seen wading into the water to graze on aquatic grasses.
The Forest Service plan sparked a public outcry. The agency has since backed down and says it will explore potential alternatives for meeting its obligations for both land stewardship and public safety.
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, which was central to the campaign to leave the horses along the river, had earlier provided the Forest Service with an extensive management plan for the horses, which include the use of birth control to keep the numbers of check.
The announcement of the muster operation had amounted to a rejection of that plan.
Michael Markarian, who is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, criticized the Forest Service over its decision to opt for a muster rather than partner with local citizens in managing the horses.
“This is the type of public-private partnership, and constructive problem solving, that our government agencies should encourage, not reject,” Markarian wrote in his blog, Animals & Politics.
“Public officials should encourage citizen participation, not shut it down.”
Markarian, who is also chief program and policy officer for the Humane Society of the United States, said that in 1971 the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act bound federal agencies to protect and manage wild horses living on public lands, and noted that where horses were found, they were to be considered an integral part of the natural system.
“Shockingly, the Forest Service has failed to acknowledge the horses of the Salt River herd as wild, deserving the protections that Congress intended.
“Instead, the agency claims the horses have been released onto the land, and designates them instead as abandoned livestock.”
The Forest Service had essentially tried to remove the horses based on a technical loophole, he asserted.
Markarian said he was pleased that federal and state lawmakers had not taken the threat to the horses lightly.
Earlier report: Forest Service backs down on muster plan