Following widespread public incense, the Tonto National Forest Service is “taking another look” at a plan to round up a famous herd of wild horses that lives along the Salt River in Mesa.
“At the current time, we do not have plans to remove the horses,” said Carrie Templin, a spokesman with the Forest Service. “However, we still have an issue we need to figure out how to address.”
Templin said Forest Service officials are meeting with community, state, and national leaders to explore alternative ways to address the safety concerns that prompted the roundup. Because the horses are not federally recognized as "wild," the Forest Service is not empowered to manage them, which has resulted in the horses invading a popular campground.
“We’re trying to be flexible and work with everybody to come up with a way to keep these horses in the public space,” she said.
But there’s still a possibility the horses could be kicked off the land.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said. “I don’t know what is going to come out of our meetings.”
The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization that has spearheaded protests against the roundup, will not drop a lawsuit accusing the Forest Service of violating federal laws protecting wild horses, said the group’s attorney, William Miller.
“There’s good faith on the side of the federal government,” Miller said. “But the horses aren’t out of danger until we have a written plan.”
State Representative Kelly Townsend has organized a town hall meeting at 4 p.m. Sunday to collect ideas from the public. The group will meet at the Love of Christ Lutheran Church at 1525 N Power Road in Mesa.
"I want to encourage you to fill that room because we cannot rest until the solution is secured," she wrote on her Facebook page. "I want to caution us on spreading any kind of wild rumors; lets all keep cool heads and work together to finalize this solution, regardless of how long it takes."
Horse lovers, meanwhile, feel cautiously optimistic.
“Good,” said Kevin Heairet, 58, who owns a horse ranch in Young, when he heard the news. “They should take another look — a good hard look. These horses are icons.”
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Simone Netherlands, Salt River Wild Horse Management Group president, posted a note on the nonprofit’s Facebook page gushing thanks.
“Our position at this time is a grateful one,” she wrote, adding that “baby Diamond,” a colt born just a few days before the Forest Service announced plans to round up the herd, “is peacefully laying by his mother’s side right now.”
The nonprofit, which has been monitoring the herd for 17 years, launched an online fundraiser Thursday to fund the fight with the Forest Service.
“We need you to continue what you have been doing because it has worked!” she wrote. “You gave them a voice and it was loud and clear!”