Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has signed a law that provides protection to the herd of wild horses that live along the Salt River in Tonto National Forest.
“Today I was proud to sign HB2340, which will protect Arizona’s majestic Salt River horses and their ability to roam free,” Ducey said on Wednesday.
He thanked Rep. Kelly Townsend who promoted the bill and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG), which had championed the cause of the animals and pushed for their protection.
The wild horses are a popular tourist attraction. They can regularly be seen wading into the river to graze on the aquatic grasses.
The herd of 100 or so animals made headlines last year when the US Forest Service, which runs the park, announced plans to remove the herd.
The horses did not qualify for federal protection as they do not reside within a formally designated wild horse management area.
The 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, culminating in the law signed this week by Ducey after being passed by the state’s House and Senate.
Members of the nonprofit group celebrated the new law, with some riding up and down 17th Avenue, waving flags carrying the organization’s logo.
The new law defines the horses as an economic, historic and recreational resource of the state, not stray animals. It defines their historic habitat on the lower Salt River and criminalizes the harassment or killing of the animals.
It also provides a framework to humanely manage the horses in a partnership with community groups and address the safety concerns for both the horses and the public.