The Arizona Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service have signed off on an agreement to implement a state law to protect the wild horses that roam the Salt River basin around and below Saguaro Lake.
Governor Doug Ducey signed the Salt River Wild Horse Act of 2016 which calls on the agencies to agree to management and monitoring methods. The state and feds met their deadline of Dec. 31, 2017 for that agreement.
“This is a positive development and the first step to ensure that the Salt River horses can roam without fear of danger or harassment,” Arizona Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Sharma Torrens told the media. “We look forward to continuing this important collaboration and process.”
As outlined by the agreement the Forest Service will install fencing near the Salt River to separate the horses from public areas and prevent other livestock from joining the herd.
The USFS is also responsible for environmental studies, monitoring the riparian area and coordination with state officials.
The state will hire a Salt River horse liaison to work with the Forest Service as well as work with third parties as necessary for a birth control program for the horses and providing veterinary services and care for injured horses.
The Forest Service will provide up to $90,000 to the Arizona Department of Agriculture to cover its management expenses.
With the 2016 law now in effect the horses are no longer considered stray wildlife and it is illegal to slaughter, harass, shoot, injure or kill the horses.
In 2015 the Forest Service announced it would round up and remove about 100 of the horses roaming the lower Salt River recreation areas. The agency said the horses posed a safety hazard to the public.
However, at that time there was a loud public outcry joined by politicians calling for long-term protection. The protests halted plans for the roundup and the creation of the protection act.
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group is a private non-profit uses volunteers to track the horses and tend to those that might be injured or in distress. The law allows the group to work with the Department of Agriculture to assist in the horse management.
The horses are frequently seen around the Saguaro Lake recreation areas as well as lower Salt River sites along the Bush Highway into Mesa. There have been reports of the horses seen as far from the river as Fountain Hills and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.