Originally Published: November 29, 2016 6:02 a.m.
Advocates for the Salt River herd of wild horses want to begin a humane management protocol they suggest should include an injectable fertility vaccine that would limit population growth and maintain a healthy herd within its habitat on the Salt River.
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group and the American Wild Horse Preservation campaign both suggest they can undertake these fertility measures to halt the threat of removing these horses from their home.
The state’s Congressional delegation said on Nov. 23 it also endorses the idea.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar is joined by fellow Republicans Trent Franks, Matt Salmon and Martha McSally and Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Raul Grijalva in asking federal officials to permit administration of the vaccine.
The six representatives ask that the U.S. Forest Service allow the advocacy groups to conduct a fertility control program to “humanely limited population growth” to protect the herd and its health.
The contraception can be administered with darts and restrict the herd’s population to a size that eliminates any need to remove the horses. At this time, there are about 100 horses living in that area. The representatives said their understanding is that these groups are ready and able to provide these vaccines at no cost to the government.
“It’s quite frustrating,” said Simone Netherlands, who has rescued and given sanctuary to three of the foals on her horse property in Williamson Valley.
Despite Gov. Doug Ducey’s state bill signed in May that was intended to protect the horses, the Forest Service has still made no move toward creating a humane management protocol for these horses, said Netherlands, the Salt River group’s leader.
The groups say their efforts to protect the herd have been stymied by the Forest Service, which is in charge of the Tonto National Forest where the herd that numbers about 100 now lives.
“We’ve been fighting for a long time,” Netherlands said of the effort to protect and preserve this herd.
The trouble the advocates face is that the Forest Service and the state Department of Agriculture both claim they have no jurisdiction. Ducey’s bill asked for the enactment of an agreement for management of the herd. No group has yet been assigned that duty.
So Netherlands’ organization, along with the American Wildlife Preservation campaign, have continued to care for the horses and protect their habitat as best they can. The Tonto National Forest, where the horses reside, is under the control of the Forest Service.
“No one is taking responsibility,” Netherlands said.
Tonto National Forest Spokesman Carrie Templin said Nov. 23 she has yet to see the letter from the six U.S. representatives and could not comment.
Netherlands said the fear she and other supporters of the horses share, including state and Congressional legislators, is that if no birth control method is approved the herd will grow to a point where the Forest Service can say the herd is unmanageable, and therefore, can start a process to remove them.
The injectable fertility drug “will keep the herd to a healthy size for its habitat and protect horses from being subject to roundups and removal,” Netherlands said, noting this does not mean no babies but just a more controlled birth rate. “The public does not want to see the removal of horses off of the river, therefore, this is the only humane path forward.”
Netherlands said time is of the essence as this is the time of the year for the 2018 foal crop.
The Congressional delegation has written a “poignant letter” to the Forest Service essentially asking why this cannot be done. Netherlands said she eagerly awaits an answer.
“We just want to be authorized to do the right thing,” Netherlands said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.