Visitors to Tonto National Forest can go camping, fishing, and if they’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the horses that live along the Salt River.
While where they travel along the river is up to them, whether the horses get to stay is up to humans.
Late last year, the United States Forest Service planned to gather up the horses and move them, they say in order to keep the public safe.
“People are out, you know, with kids and dogs and camping and picnicking, and we don’t want anybody to get hurt,” said Carrie Templin, public affairs officer for Tonto National Forest. “We don’t want the horses to get hurt. We don’t want people to get hurt.”
Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, encouraged the public to speak out against what she calls a round up.
“Arizona was outraged,” she said. “And we’re very happy that the public really gave these horses a voice.”
For now, the horses are allowed to stay. A state law was passed that says the Department of Agriculture will work with the Forest Service to manage the horses, but an agreement has not been signed.
“No one is really authorized to manage these horses and we’re the only ones taking responsibility for that,” said Netherlands.
The latest battle over the Salt River horses has to do with birth control. The management group says their volunteers are trained to use PZP, a humane form of birth control that they can administer using darts. The Forest Service has denied their request.
“We don’t have authority to approve any action of the horses at this point and time,” said Templin.
On November 22, state legislators on both sides of the aisle wrote to the Department of Agriculture. They urged the department to allow PZP use on the Salt River horses, saying they believe the Forest Service has the authority to manage the horses. The department has yet to respond.
Meanwhile, the horses remain blissfully unaware, enjoying an undetermined future, basking in the sun.