At the last minute, the U.S. Forest Service cancelled it's controversial plan** to round up and euthanize 100 of the iconic Salt River Wild Horses. The fate of the Salt River Wild Horses roused national outcry, with supporters of the horses claiming that they have lived there for centuries, and the U.S. Forest Service crypitcally claiming the horses are "unauthorized" and could cause injury to campers, though there are no incidents on record.
What is an "Unauthorized Horse," you may ask...
A source inside the Arizona Game and Fish Department tells me that in recent years, namely since the recession, people have been abandoning their horses at the Lower Salt River, due to the high cost of maintaining a large animal, especially if that horse happened to have special medical needs. The U.S. Forest Service considers these horses "unauthorized livestock."
All the horses that live at the LSR are monitored and documented by The Lower Salt River Horse Management Group, in conjunction with government agencies, and in accordance with The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
All the Salt River Wild Horses have names and people looking out for them.
However, while the U.S. Forest Service's plan to remove the horses can be seen as rash, we still have a problem: there are more horses than ever before, some with medical conditions that need tending to, yet the same amount of funding, or less due to cut-backs, than ever before.
At this point, you may be asking…
What does this have to do with cycling?
The Lower Salt River is where I did my first overnight bike-camping trip. We picked that location largely based on the famous horses. In fact, campers come from all over to camp amongst the heard of horses, who roam freely along the banks of the river and walk delicately around camper’s tents at night. Cyclists - both roadies and MTBers - love the routes in this area for the mountain climbing, “King Kong” descent, and of course the wild horses who invariably cross your path.
The more I get in to cycling, the more of an advocate I become: an advocate for safe roadways, for sustainable transportation, and for the preservation of the beautiful routes we love to ride.
As cyclists, we know dearly the value of life. We are constantly taking a risk by getting out on the road and competing for time and space with cars. On the street, we cyclists are not seen as a precious life, in fact our mere presence is seen as a nuiance. In that sense, I identify with the horses. They have just as much right to roam that land as humans on bikes or tents or cars do.
Naysayers will suggest that the horses are dangerous - they could enter camps and injure people, or walk out on to the road and cause a car/bike accident. My response is that we need to start making space, roads, laws and regulations that are conducive to the cohabitation of both humans and horses - not just humans.
Cyclists advocate for lower speed limits on roads, wide bike lanes, clean MTB paths, fines for obstructing or littering in a bike path, no-motorized-vehicle options. These same approaches can help humans and horses live harmoniously: Lower the speeds on the roads, "No-Camp" spaces where horses can be left unbothered, fines for littering where the horses could eat the trash and become sick.
It is our responsibility to find solutions that include marginalized groups - be it cyclists or wild horses.
So, it seems cyclists and the Salt River Wild Horses have quite a bit in common.
So, how do I help?
Unless you are an expert in wild horses, probably the best way to show support for them is to connect with the experts who have been working with these horses for decades; donate your time to help with their projects, attend their events and show support with your dollars!
And go camp at the Lower Salt River! Campsites are almost all free, and prices are reduced for cyclists! For campsite info, click here
**History of the U.S. Forest Service plan to remove Salt River Wild Horses from Tonto National Forest: On Monday, The U.S. Forest Service made public their plan to round up 65-100 Salt River Wild horses and either auction them off or euthanize them, should their owners not claim them or collect them from the public lands. The U.S. Forest Service was confident in their plan, saying that nothing short of a congressional injunction would stop the process. By Wednesday, preservation groups like the Salt River Wild Horse Group took legal action and mobilized citizen advocates, and the U.S. Forest Service agreed to push back the horse removal project until September, when Congress is in session. Thursday, just one day before the scheduled round up, The U.S. Forest Service cancelled their plans due to overwhelming public outcry and threat of lawsuits from preservationists.
Currently, officials say there is "no plan" to remove the horses, and more humane options are being considered.