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Wild Horse Advocates: New Fence Will Cut Off Salt River Herd From Vital Resources

wild horse along the Salt River
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
At any given time, there are about 250 wild horses along the Salt River, according to Salt River Wild Horse Management.

The Tonto National Forest is installing nearly four miles of fencing along the banks of the lower Salt River. It’s intended to prevent horses from crossing Bush Highway and keep nearby livestock from joining the horse herd.

But advocates for the wild horses say the new fence could be dangerous for their health.

Workers recently finished a separate 10-mile section of fence along the road and the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group supported that boundary. But the group says this new section will keep horses away from the road and block them from almost half of their habitat.

The group’s founder, Simone Netherlands, said there are alternatives.

“We really need an overpass because that will permanently eliminate any and all problems and be good for all other wildlife as well," Netherlands said. "We ask them to move the boundary fence over to the roadside, so that it actually does keep horses off the road and does not keep horses away from the river.”

Netherlands said if the fence goes ahead as planned, horses on one side won’t have access to river resources and horses on the other will miss out on the mesquite forest, leaving some dehydrated and others hungry.

But Chandler Mundy with the Tonto National Forest said that's not entirely true.

“The horses will continue to have access to over twelve miles of the lower Salt River," Mundy said. "There is a small piece of forest on the other side of the road that they will not have access to, unless there is some sort of an overpass, but the amount of forage available on that side is very small.”

Mundy said they’re not opposed to the overpass, but he doesn’t think the benefits will offset the cost. 

"We want to really make sure that we don't have any more accidents on the highway." Mundy said. "We had 12 in 2019, more than 20 the year before, including an accident that resulted in a woman becoming a paraplegic." 

Netherlands says the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group provides a service by humanely managing the horses and they want to maintain a strong partnership with federal agencies.

"We do have a partnership with these agencies and we don't want people to put threats toward the agencies." she said. "That's not what we're trying to accomplish."

Senior field correspondent Bridget Dowd has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.