Monday, June 4, 2012

Salt River Wild Horses in Peril

Photo by Peggy Thomas, July 2011, near Coon Bluff, along the Salt River.
If you've ever birded, kayaked, fished, or tubed along the Salt River over the years you've likely encountered the "Salt River Wild Horses".  They seem to appear out of nowhere, around the bend on the river, peering out from the thick mesquite forest, or coming over a saguaro studded hillside.  Its always unexpected, enchanting, and even magical to see these majestic symbols of the west out roaming free.
Photo by LuAnne Hedblom, May 2012, near Coon Bluff, along the Salt River.
But now suddenly, without a public notice or hearing, without any attempt to humanely manage the herd, and without the required environmental impact study, the U.S.Forest Service seems to have decided to go ahead and round up and remove the Salt River Wild Horses.  The USFS claims the horses are "feral" even though documentation exists indicating that they are very likely descendants of horses brought here in the 17th century by Father Kino to the Pima.  Which means they should be protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Photo by Peggy Thomas, July 2011, Coon'Bluff,  Salt River.

After all of the positive media attention these horses have received lately - Becky Standridge's study and gorgeous photography of them - and the awesome footage of Champ saving one of his fillies from drowning in the river, it is astonishing that the forest service would choose NOW as the time to remove the herd.  Such blatant disregard for public sentiment is galling, let alone the disregard it shows for the horses themselves and the history they represent.

So whether you are a horse-lover or not, such reckless behavior by a government agency calls for each of us to take some form of action.  The best thing you can do to voice your concerns is to contact:

The Tonto National Forest Supervisor Reta Laford
Telephone: 602-225-5200
Fax: 602-225-5200
2324 E. McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85006
Calls should be made immediately followed by a letter faxed to the 
2324 East McDowell office or emailed to that office.


Your Congressmen and both of your Senators
To find contact information for US Congressmen and US Senators by State, by name, or by zip code, go to the link below:

Please call now, time is of the essence.  Otherwise on your next trip to the Salt River the only thing you'll ever see around the bend or have peering at you through the mesquite will be just another beer-toting tuber or another binocular-bearing birder.  The magic will be gone.

If you feel a bit shy or tongue-tied about calling, or just want more facts under your belt, go to the Salt River Horses Facebook page.  There you will see a post where Becky Standridge has outlined the facts for all interested parties to see.  Hmmmm.... why didn't the USFS do that?

Photo by LuAnne Hedblom, May 2012, Coon Bluff, along the Salt River.

USFS document recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act:


  1. i have lived in mesa all my life (64 yrs). i have spent alot of time at the lower salt river thru the years. i have only noticed these feral (not wild) horses for the last 6-8 years. i speculate they are strays from either ft mcdowell or salt river reservations? if they are now on tonto n.f. land they would come under jursidiction of the whb free roaming act of 1971. if the tribe(s) xpress jurisdiction i do not know how that would "play out", as other gov lands may not be under the authority of the whb free roaming act of 1971 and their (horses) "removal" may be much different?

  2. I received this email reply from the Tonto Forestry folks. I have no reason to doubt their sincerity in this matter and include it here to hopefully shed some light on this matter:

    "We have a growing public safety challenge on the forest due to TNF horse herd increases; this poses safety risks to both the TNF horses and to the public.

    Somehow, the herd – which by all accounts, appears to be increasing -- will have to be better managed. I can tell you this: The only focus I am aware of this year, as a multi-agency group started working together to find solutions, was that they spent a fair amount of time looking very hard at a possible contraception program: training, instruments, supplies.

    If you call a “contraceptive” approach the same as “removal,” then guilty as charged. Otherwise, my statement to you below stands: we have not gathered enough data – for example, how many horses are there out there? – to explore any kind of options or make any final decisions.

    I really did mean exactly what I said: We do not know the nature of the herd management challenge; therefore, we can’t project what the solution will be.

    And right now – and for many months to come – we will not return to collecting data and developing solutions due to our wildfire assignments and responsibilities."

    My personal take on the above is that the forestry service is doing what they are paid to do: manage the forest. Doing a limited study on the horses, their proliferation, the potential impact on the environment, and exploring options for control (if even necessary) is not the same as "removing" them from the river. I believe the public should be informed before any action is taken in order to open the issue for debate and reasonable suggestions, but stirring up knee-jerk reactions by implying that some kind of covert round-up/slaughter is in the making is neither reasonable nor helpful to the forestry service, the public, or the horses.

  3. they've lived happily for untold years, why not let them be? wouldn't they attract tourists?

  4. how the west was won - without horses it never would have happened, respect the decendants of these fourlegged heroes

  5. The islands of Chincoteague and Assateague don't seem to have safety issues with their animals, and they march them right down Main Street for the carnival! Maybe the Accomack County Sheriff's Dept can give TNF some pointers.

  6. Yes, I've been hurt. Yes, I'm afraid. Yes, I'm sad. No, I don't know what's wrong. No, I don't care. No, I want to be alone.. its for the best.

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  7. glad to be one of the visitors on this amazing internet site : D. salt lick horses


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