Lawmakers Taking a Stand to Protect the Salt River Horses
The U.S. Forest Service has sparked a national outrage with its new plan to remove all of the horses from one of the nation’s most iconic herds—the Salt River horses—from Tonto National Forest in Arizona.
In 1971, Congress codified the important place horses hold in American life through the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, declaring that horses are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West. The act bound federal agencies to protect and manage wild horses living on our 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. Removing these iconic horses based on a technical loophole would allow them to be sent to livestock auctions—where kill buyers are waiting to peddle horse flesh to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico.
One thing is clear: the public is outraged by the Forest Service’s proposed action.
Tourists come from across the nation to visit and photograph the forest with specific hopes of catching a glimpse of one of these beautiful animals. Their removal could have a great ecological impact on the park, and threatens an economic blow to Arizona and the national forest system.
Fortunately, federal and state lawmakers are also not taking this action lightly.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has called on the Forest Service to halt its plans to remove the horses from Tonto National Forest. Representatives Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., David Schweikert, R-Ariz., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noting that wild horses are an integral part of America’s West, and asking for an immediate halt to their removal. Representative Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, also weighed in with a letter questioning the need for immediate removal of the horses, who have been living safely within the forest’s borders for decades. Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., requested that the Forest Service cease all management activities until the public has had a sufficient chance to participate in the process.
Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey—who is establishing a solid animal protection record after vetoing the state’s bill to exclude farm animals from the regular cruelty code—is also speaking out for the horses. He tweeted that the Forest Service should leave the Salt River horses alone, promising that Arizona would provide them with sanctuary if the federal government wouldn’t.
Local citizens have offered to partner with the government to solve this problem, but the Forest Service has rebuffed the offer of assistance. This is the type of public-private partnership, and constructive problem solving, that our government agencies should encourage, not reject. Public officials should encourage citizen participation, not shut it down.
We are grateful to federal and state policymakers for standing up for what’s right, and urging the Forest Service to reconsider its plan to remove the Salt River horses from their home in Tonto National Forest. Our nation’s horses simply deserve better, and this time they have some powerful advocates making sure they get it.