Arizona lawmakers back bill protecting famous Salt River wild horses

The river is central to the lives of the horses. Photos: Lori Walker
The Salt River is central to the lives of the horses. Photo: Lori Walker

The signature of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is all that is required to enact a law to protect the state’s iconic Salt River wild horses.

A 53-3 vote in support of the legislation in Arizona’s House of Representatives on Thursday was the final hurdle within the state’s legislature, with the bill already having passed in the Senate.

Its passage comes just days after advocates for the horses rescued a foal named Pacman, fighting a serious infection most likely as a result of injuries received from tangling with barbed wire.

The horses live alongside the Salt River in Tonto National Forest, near Mesa. They can regularly be seen wading into the river to graze on the aquatic grasses.

The horses are a popular tourist attraction, but do not qualify for federal protection as they do no reside within a formally designated wild horse management area.

The herd made headlines last July when the US Forest Service, which runs the park, announced plans to remove the herd as it considered them stray livestock.

The Salt River Wild Horses Management Group (SRWHMG) spearheaded a major social media campaign against the proposal which persuaded the forest service to can those plans. Efforts were then made to find a long-term solution over the management of the horses.

The end result is a bill that will provide for the long-term protection and management of the herd, which numbers about 100.

“This is a historic day for horse advocates, the Salt River wild horses and for the public, which would not stand for the removal and disposal of this herd that is so historically and economically significant to the state of Arizona,” SRWHMG president Simone Netherlands said.

“We are so proud of our legislators for listening to the voice of the people and standing firm for protection of these irreplaceable Arizona treasures.

“We are especially grateful to Rep. Kelly Townsend, the bill’s sponsor, for her dedication to saving our wild horses, and to Governor Ducey for his support for protecting this historic herd,” Netherlands added.

Another supporter of efforts to get protection for the herd, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, also welcomed the passage of the bill.

“Citizens across Arizona and the United States are cheering this victory for the cherished Salt River wild horses,” its director, Suzanne Roy, said. She said the group was pleased to have worked alongside the SRWHMG in getting protection for the horses.

“This is a great day for wild horses in Arizona!”

The legislation establishes that the horses are not stray livestock. It criminalizes killing or harassing a Salt River wild horse, and formalizes their humane management through a cooperative agreement between federal, state and local authorities, and the SRWHMG.

Pacman is receiving veterinary care for injuries and an infection, most likely caused by barbed wire. Photo: SRWHMG
Pacman is receiving veterinary care for injuries and an infection, most likely caused by barbed wire. Photo: SRWHMG

Meanwhile, Pacman is safely under care after being rescued on Sunday night by a field team operating under the SRWHMG.

The group suspects Pacman’s leg injuries were caused by barbed wire. He developed a severe infection and is currently receiving intensive treatment at a local veterinary hospital.

The group is raising funds to cover the veterinary costs associated with saving Pacman’s life. Donations can be made here.

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