The U.S. Forest Service has pledged to withdraw its order to round up and impound the horses along the Salt River northeast of Phoenix, a group dedicated to protecting the horses announced Thursday.
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group said in a news release that the Forest Service has informed the group it intends to withdraw the order, which was nearing the end of a 120-day stay.
Simone Netherlands, president of the group, said in the release that the organization will continue to work with the Forest Service to develop a long-term protection and management plan for the horses.
The plan to round up the horses drew swift and vocal opposition from many Arizonans, including wildlife advocates and photographers. It also caught the attention of Arizona's U.S. house delegation, which urged the Forest Service to protect the herd.
The full text of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group release is below. To learn more, visit the group's Facebook page.
The U.S. Forest Service has informed the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) that it intends to withdraw its July 31, 2015, notice to round up and impound the wild horses that roam the Tonto National Forest along the Salt River.
The withdrawal comes within days of the expiration of the 120-day stay of the roundup that was negotiated by the SRWHMG shortly after the impound notice was published.
Since August, the SRWHMG, the local community, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and Animal Recovery Mission have worked toward the cancellation of the impound notice in order to allow time to negotiate an agreement for the long-term protection of the horses on Salt River.
Last Friday, the Arizona U.S House delegation led by Congressman Matt Salmon, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging the Forest Service to move quickly to implement reasonable, humane solutions and protect the horses where they live. The letter encouraged the agency to work with the community and questioned why the horses could not be managed under the 1960 Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act.
Last week, SRWHMG president Simone Netherlands met with Neil Bosworth, the Tonto National Forest supervisor, and received assurances that the agency is committed to working toward a long-term plan for the humane management of the horses along the river.
“This is a big deal to us,” Netherlands said. “That notice has been hanging like a cloud over our heads all this time. We are grateful for this important step and will continue to do everything in our power to work with the Forest Service and other authorities towards the good of the Tonto National Forest."
“While much work remains to be done and many details to work out, this is a very positive step toward protecting these horses, who are clearly valued by the public,” said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. “It’s wonderful when our elected representatives and government agencies listen to the will of the people.”
The SRWHMG rallied the public and politicians immediately following the Forest Service’s announcement of its intent to round up the horses. The group also filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the Forest Service from rounding up the horses. The SRWHMG later dropped the lawsuit as a sign of good faith in an effort to continue negotiations with the Forest Service.
Arizona’s political leaders, including Governor Doug Ducey, Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, and Congresspersons Salmon, Trent Franks, Martha McSally, Ann Kirkpatrick, Raul Grijalva, Kyrsten Sinema, Ruben Gallego and David Schweikert, have expressed support for their constituents’ desire to establish long-term protection for the Salt River horses.
"The freedom of these wild horse families means a great deal to the American people,” concluded Simone Netherlands. “Perhaps it is because they represent what we care about most -- freedom and family.”