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April 24, 2018

U.S. Forest Service halts plan to remove wild horses from Tonto National Forest

The U.S. Forest Service is reconsidering a controversial plan to remove a herd of wild horses from the Tanto National Forest in Arizona, officials said Thursday.

“The Forest Service will continue to engage with the local community, state and federal officials to explore potential alternatives,” Neil Bosworth, forest supervisor for Tonto National Forest, U.S. Forest Service, said in a statement.

The decision to halt the round-up of an estimated 65 to 100 horses, comes in the wake of massive pressure from protestors and political officials about the fate of the wild horse herd.

On Wednesday, Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service and the Arizona Department of Agriculture, urging officials to postpone the round-up.

Officials originally planned to remove a herd of horses often found near the Salt River in the Tonto National Park, about 75 miles northeast of Phoenix. Forest Service officials said that the herd has become a matter of public safety.

The agency maintains that the horses were once domestic livestock and, therefore, do not merit the protections that designated wild horses receive.

A notice from the U.S. Forest Service called on owners with proper documentation to claim the stray horses by Friday, Aug. 7. Unclaimed animals would be removed from national park service land and ultimately sold at auction.

According to the notice, “livestock not sold at public sale may be sold at private sale or condemned and destroyed, or otherwise disposed.”

Advocates of keeping the herd intact alleged that the unwanted horses could be killed,according to a statement from Salt River Wild Horse Management, a non-profit organization that monitors the herd.

McCain and Flake said the agency’s plans to go back to the drawing board are a step in the right direction.

Simone Netherlands, of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, told KPNX-TV,the plans to halt the round-up are just the beginning.

“Those horses are still in peril until the moment the Forest Service recognizes them,” Netherlands told KPNX-TV.