A herd of wild horses living near Arizona’s Salt River came a step closer to new protections under legislation Gov. Doug Ducey signed on Wednesday.
The proposal by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, makes it illegal to harass, shoot, kill or slaughter a horse that is part of the herd.
The protections depend on the Arizona Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service reaching a related agreement before the end of next year.
“The Salt River horses are beautiful, majestic and a treasure to our state. Since last summer, we have worked to protect them and their ability to roam free,” Ducey said in a statement.
The proposal was developed after the U.S. Forest Service planned to remove the horses. It reversed its decision following pressure from the public.
Townsend called the agreement a compromise that protects the horses from harassment and abuse.
Neil Bosworth, Tonto National Forest supervisor, said he looks forward to working with those involved for the herd’s future management.
About 100 horses are in the herd that has historically lived around the lower Salt River and Saguaro Lake east of Phoenix. Arizona records indicate the herd has lived in the same area since about 1890, making them unique among other herds across the country.
“These horses were here before Arizona was a state and they deserve to stay,” Townsend said.
Not all advocacy groups agree that the new law is the best way forward.
Michael Harris, director of the Friends of Animals wildlife law program, was among those involved in a lawsuit to stop the Forest Service from removing the animals last year.
Harris said the protection of wild horses is a problem in several Western states and needs to be addressed federally, rather than locally.
“The reality is the federal government is mismanaging the horses throughout the West,” he said.
The measure Ducey signed is the result of negotiations between lawmakers, state and federal officials and advocacy groups such as the Salt River Wild Horses Management Group.