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Frequently Asked Questions about the Salt River Wild Horses

For more information, please visit the Salt River Wild Horse Management Groups website and
follow them on Facebook.
1. Are the Salt River horses wild and native horses or stray livestock horses?
The Salt River wild horses are an iconic and historic population of unbranded,
unclaimed, wild and free-roaming horses that merit protection within our national forest.
Evidence indicates that wild horses have been living on the lower Salt River since well before
the Tonto National Forest was created in 1902. It is believed that the herd is descended from
the Spanish horses brought to Arizona by Spanish missionary Father Eusebio Kino in the
1600s. An Arizona Champion Newspaper article, dated January 25, 1890 and located in the
Arizona State Archives, classifies horses in the Salt River Valley as native stock. The United
States Forest Service (USFS) itself acknowledges that the horses have lived on the lower Salt
River since the 1930s. Further historic records and eyewitness accounts chronicle the presence
of free roaming horses on the lower Salt River throughout the modern era, through the 1970s,
when the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed, to present day.
The FS claim that the Salt River horses are not wild is based on a 1974 letter that
acknowledged dense riparian vegetationmakes it very difficult toeven observe these
animals. The decision to deny the Salt River horses protection under the Act ran counter to the
longstanding FS policy to manage these horses as wild and distinct from stray livestock prior
to 1971. In fact, then FS Regional Rangeland Ecosystem Specialist, Curtis M. Johnson, stated
that the horses were not considered unauthorizedthey were considered wild horses and
managed as such throughout the 1960s.
In a May 17, 1979 Phoenix Gazette article, Perl Charles, a former Forest Service official and
noted conservationist (for whom many hiking trails are named) confirmed that the horses were
wild and had been present on the Salt River for 35 years that he knows of, and maybe since
the turn of the century. At the time, Mr. Charles was advocating for protection of the population
of 40 to 50 wild horses, stating, Its a delightful thing to watch them running free.
During his career with the Forest Service, Perl Charles estimates he rounded up and removed
over 3500 head of wild horses within the national forests. Therefore, Perl Charles should be a
credible authority on identifying wild horses versus alleged branded Indian horses present at
the time.
Simply put, USFS claim that these horses are stray livestock is not supported by historical or
current evidence. No parties -- including neighboring tribes or the State of Arizona - claimed
these horses in response to the July 31, 2015, USFS published notice to impound. Therefore
it may be assumed that they are not truly stray livestock.

2. Do the Salt River horses help or harm the environment?

Of the six million annual visitors to the Tonto National Forest and
the tens of thousands of animals who call it home, the small herd of
free-roaming horses living along the lower Salt River is compatible
with, and supportive of, a healthy ecosystem.
There are no scientific data published in any peer-reviewed journal about the
Salt River wild horses or the lower Salt River habitat. Neither the U.S. Forest
Service nor any other organizations have performed a scientific study or
overall environmental assessment of the lower Salt River, indicating that
there have not been serious environmental concerns on the lower Salt River
to date.
Claims that these horses pose a threat are based on scant research in other
geographic regions that are not relevant to the lower Salt River region. And
the data from these regions indicate that wild horses have both
environmental impacts and environmental benefits, much like any other
wildlife species, including birds.
In fact, the 16-mile stretch where the horses graze is one of the most
biologically rich areas along the entire 200-mile river, in spite of the human
caused challenges it faces. Photo-documentation accumulated by members
of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group supports this observation
with evidence over long periods of time showing healthy and growing trees,
seedlings sprouting from horse manure, abundant plants and flourishing
wildlife diversity in the very area on the river where the horses roam.
Bald Eagles on the river have been making a comeback since the early
1980s and eagle nesting was particularly successful this year in the exact
area that the horses call home, according to the Audubon Society itself. The
horses and the bald eagles have been cohabiting together successfully and
may even have a symbiotic relationship.
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group cares deeply, not only about
the wild horses, but also about the birds, the environment and all other
wildlife. We look forward to working with the USFS and conservation groups
in any and all projects that improve the environment and benefit the
ecosystem, in which thousands of species have been harmoniously co-

habiting for more than a century. The lower Salt River should be preserved as
is, for future generations to come.

3. What are other pressures on the environment in this area?

The lower Salt River faces a myriad of human-caused challenges
that should be addressed before scapegoating this small herd of
extremely rare and valuable wild horses.
The Salt River ecosystem in the Tonto National Forest is impacted by many
factors, including agricultural activities and heavy recreational use. The Salt
River is heavily littered with trash and the bottom of the river has
accumulated several layers of aluminum cans in certain areas. Legal as well
as illegal recreational use has impacted the riverbanks and the soil
conditions. Items such as fishing wire, lead bullets, metal and old downed
barbed wire pose a serious safety hazard to wildlife as well as to people and
wild horses. The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group members pick up
bags of trash on the river daily, organize bi- monthly cleanup days and also
participate in the FS yearly cleanup day.
In addition, the health of this natural habitat is heavily impacted by Salt
River Projects policies regarding water levels and volume of water released
from the Stewart Mountain dam. At times, during the winter, the river
actually runs to just a trickle. Recorded levels of output from Stewart
Mountain Dam show less than 6 cubic feet per second released for months
on end during the winter, which is less than 1% of the average output of 900
cubic feet per second during the summer months. Water levels, obviously,
have a significant effect on plants and animal life in the area. We believe this
to be a potential source of adverse outcomes in the riparian areas along the
Salt River.
4. Are there public safety concerns related to the horses?

The FS initially cited public safety as its main motivation for removing the
horses. Yet, the FS states on its website that in nearly three years, there
were only four accidents involving a horse, with no mention of any human
Between January 1, 2013, and August 4, 2015, Maricopa County
documented at least 30 incidents involving these stray horses, from

reports of horses on or near a road to vehicle accidents with horses.

Twenty-six of these calls for service were to report horses on
or near roads. Four of the calls for service resulted in a vehicle
accident involving a horse, which required one horse to be put
According to statistics from Maricopa County and Department of Public
Safety, collisions with other types of wildlife happen in the Forest with
greater frequency, but there are no plans to remove other wildlife species,
only horses.
Regarding non-traffic related safety concerns, to our knowledge, in the history
of recreation on the Tonto National Forest there has never been an injury reported of
a human, caused by a wild horse.

Any traffic safety issues that do arise can be addressed by continued work
between the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group and the Maricopa
County Department of Transportation. This work has already begun with the
placement, in late 2014, of watch for horses signs placed strategically at
each of the eight horse crossings on Bush Highway. Additional safety
measures could include flashing lights at dusk, when visibility is low.
5. Why is it so important to save these wild horses?
Now that we are down to the last of these historic living symbols, it
is crucial that we make informed decisions based on science and
based on what future generations of Americans would want us to
These wild horses are crucially important to the local, environmental, and the
global community for many reasons that include recreational enjoyment and
economic, cultural, and educational contributions. The herd is iconic,
representative of nature at its best: wild and free. It is also accessible -tourists and photographers come from all over the nation to see these wild
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the wildlife viewing industry in
the U.S. garnered $65.7 billion in 2012 alone, and is growing every year. Wild
horse eco-tourism in particular is on the rise. Madeleine Pickens Mustang
Monument Wild Horse Resort in Nevada is drawing international tourists
willing to pay over $1,000 per night for the opportunity to spend time with

mustangs. On the Salt River, visitors can spend an entire day with wild
horses for just seven dollars -- the cost of a Tonto National Forest day pass.
The Salt River wild horses draw visitors to the area, providing a boost for
local businesses and the economy.
These horses are also important to the Salt River Pima and Fort McDowell
Sovereign Nations and as such are protected by both tribes because of the
horses long and rich heritage with indigenous peoples and because of their
historic and cultural significance.
Children of all ages benefit from the presence of these horses. Local high
schools have brought their classrooms outdoors to study the wild horses.
Very few urban areas exist where students can travel a short distance to gain
tremendous experiential knowledge in an outdoor classroom that extends
beyond a schools four walls. Educational seminars about the wild horses are
offered routinely by Ranger B at the Usury Pass Center on the Salt River.

6. Who supports protecting these horses?

The USFS notice of intent to remove the Salt Rivers free roaming horses
provoked strong public outrage. Public support for these horses is
demonstrated by more than 200 people who attended an August rally in
support of the horses and 250 citizens who attended a town hall meeting a
few days later. Our elected representatives in the Congress and the State
House have spoken out as well as U.S. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain,
U.S. Representatives Matt Salmon, David Schweikert and Krysten Sinema, and
U.S. Representatives Martha McSally, Ann Kirkpatrick, Michelle Lujan
Grisham, Krysten Sinema have all sent letters to USFS raising concerns about
its plans to remove the horses. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has expressed
his support for the horses on social media, as well as Sherriff Joe Arpaio. In
addition, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community released a strong
statement of support for the protection of the horses. And, hundreds of
organizations and businesses as well as literally thousands upon thousands
of people, just like you, are strongly opposed to the removal of these
animals. In fact, nearly 300,000 people have signed a petition calling for
their protection.
7. How can USFS protect the Salt River free roaming horses?


the discretion to protect these horses for future generations by managing
them as part of its overall forest management plan. The USFS can also
choose to protect the horses by designating a territory for them under the
Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The Salt River Wild Horse
Management Group has presented Tonto National Forest officials with a
detailed proposal for a humane management program and is offering a
public-private partnership to implement it. Key components of the plan
A humane fertility control program to manage herd expansion. Immunocontraception can be humanely darted by certified individuals without need
to capture animals.
Range management measures such as addition and/or removal of fencing or
restoration of water sources to facilitate natural horse migration and
alleviate areas where horses are congregating in close proximity to people.
Continued work with the Maricopa County Department of Transportation to
improve traffic safety through horse crossing signs and other measures, such
as animal detection systems that trigger warning lights or other signals
when large animals are present. Such traffic safety improvements could be
privately funded.
Public education and other measures to ensure public and horse safety.
Long-term range health studies to determine impacts of various uses,
including but not limited to the horses.
By entering into a public-private partnership for the humane management of
the Salt River wild horses, the USFS can balance recreational, environmental
and public safety concerns while delivering win-win solutions that will protect
this iconic herd for future generations to come.
8. What can I do to help?
Sign the petition asking that the Forest Service to protect the Salt River wild
horses in their historic home.
Contact Congress in support of federal protection for the Salt River wild
horses in their habitat. Click here.
Volunteer for the Salt River Wild Management Group and follow them on

Join the email list for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign to stay
up to date on news relating to the Salt River wild horses and other wild
horses and burros in the U.S.