Major Legal Win for Salt River Wild Horse Protection

Tonto National Forest Successfully Defends Humane Treatment of Wild Horses While Apache Sitgreaves National Forest Blatantly Disregards It 

Phoenix, AZ (December 5, 2023) – A lawsuit aimed at overturning the humane management program that is protecting the Salt River wild horses in the Tonto National Forest has been dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Phoenix Division.

The lawsuit was filed in April of this year by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and sport hunting organizations. It contained numerous factual inaccuracies about the Salt River wild horses. It also omitted any reference to the state law protecting the horses and authorizing the Arizona Department of Agriculture to manage them.

The complaint alleged that the United States Forest Service (USFS) failed to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) related to the Intergovernmental Agreements (IGA) and the management plan. Yet it neglected to mention that the Salt River wild horse habitat area was analyzed under NEPA in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Tonto National Forest Plan issued in March of 2022.

On July 31, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which manages the nation’s national forests, including the Tonto National Forest, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. At this point, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) and the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) also filed a motion to intervene in the case. The intervention papers corrected misinformation contained in the CBD complaint, including the outright factual errors.  The judge granted the USFS’s motion to dismiss the original lawsuit, but allowed the CBD an additional 30 days to amend its complaint. The 30-day deadline was on Nov. 30 and no amendments were filed.

The case is now effectively dismissed in the lower courts.

“We commend the USFS Tonto National Forest for filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and for continuing to work with the state on the humane management of these beloved wild horses,” said Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. “The court’s decision will allow us to continue to manage and care for the Salt River wild horses, who are beloved by the Arizona public and an important part of our state’s history.”

Netherlands’ group has long advocated for protection of the Salt River wild horses and currently  manages them through a partnership with the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

“This was a misguided attempt to destroy a successful, humane wild horse management program. We are pleased the court recognized the lawsuit’s lack of merit and granted the motion to dismiss,” said AWHC Executive Director Suzanne Roy. “The CBD and the sporthunters are completely out of step with the wishes of the  public, which stands firmly on the side of protecting the Salt River wild horses as iconic Arizona natural treasures. “

Roy cited recent polling that showed 88 percent of Arizonans support protecting the Salt River wild horses.

The Salt River wild horses in the Tonto National Forest are protected under a state law passed in 2016 in response to public opposition to a USFS plan to eliminate the horses from the forest. The law protects the horses from harassment, shooting, killing, slaughter, and capture and authorizes the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) to enter into an IGA with the USFS for the management of the horses.

The effective dismissal of the lawsuit came on the same day that the neighboring Apache Sitgreaves National Forest shipped 45 Alpine wild horses to Texas kill pen as part of an ongoing effort to eliminate wild horses from the forest.  Noting the stark contrast between the two forests’ approach to wild horse management, Netherlands stated,

“The Apache Sitgreaves National Forest should follow the Tonto National Forest’s lead in managing wild horses humanely. Under no circumstance should the Forest Service ever send horses captured from our public lands to kill pens and slaughter auctions.”

Fortunately, rescue organizations worked together to rescue the 45 Alpine wild horses, however hundreds more are at risk as the Apache Sitgreaves Forest continues to round them up.

The SRWHMG and AWHC are urging the public to contact Randy Moore, Chief of the USFS to urge him to support humane wild horse management with fertility control and to protect wild horses on public lands managed by the USFS from slaughter.


About the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group: The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) is an Arizona non-profit organization dedicated to protect, monitor, and humanely manage the Salt River wild horses. The SRWHMG has secured agreements and protections for this iconic and beloved wild horse herd in the Tonto National Forest and the group partners with the State of Arizona for the day-to-day management of the herd, including a highly successful fertility control program that has stabilized population growth within its first two years.

About the American Wild Horse Campaign: The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation’s leading nonprofit wild horse conservation organization, with more than 700,000 supporters and followers nationwide. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. In addition to advocating for the protection and preservation of America’s wild herds, AWHC implements the largest wild horse fertility control program in the world through a partnership with the State of Nevada for wild horses that live in the Virginia Range near Reno.

Enjoyed by millions of visitors to the Tonto National Forest, the Salt River wild horses roam freely in their 20,000-acre habitat along the lower Salt River. They are protected by A.R.S 3-1491, the State law passed in 2016 for their protection. SRWHMG (we) are under contract with the State of Arizona for their humane management and we are extremely dedicated to their protection and well being. The Salt River wild horses are the pride of the community, a favorite subject of photographers and an icon of the wild, free spirit of Arizona and the American West.

salt river wild horses

Two new foals to the herd have been born this year, one in March, “Splendor” and one in August, “Coriander”. The public enthusiastically helped to name them, both are boys. Our humane fertility control program  has reduced the foaling rate from over 100 foals a year, to just one or two per year. The low birthrate keeps the herd in balance with it’s habitat as well as with government goals. In essence, the successful humane fertility control is what keeps the entire herd wild and free.

With this humane management in the field, we are showing that there is a better way, as opposed to cruel and expensive removals. Our way is a win win for the public, as well as for the government and of course for the horses themselves.

However, these successful programs and the  intergovernmental agreements between the Tonto National Forest and the Arizona Department of Agriculture along with the overwhelmingly passed state legislation that enabled them, are under attack.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service that seeks to overturn the will of the Arizona people and halt the intergovernmental agreements. Learn more about the lawsuit and what our attorneys are doing.

Our programs are in the news a lot, watch the latest from Fox10!

Arizona forest refuses offer from group to help control wild horse population. Here’s the reason why

An Arizona group has had some success in controlling the Salt River Wild Horse population, but as they set their sights on wild horses in other parts of Arizona, some officials are refusing the group’s offer.

Managing Wild Horses Humanely

We, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG), perform the scope of work under contract with the State, with integrity and humanity for all of the horses in the Salt River Herd.

Humane management includes many different aspects, from administering humane birth control, to rescuing injured wild horses when needed, to fencing maintenance which keeps them safe from the roads. With our large volunteer force we monitor the horses daily, help them cross the roads when necessary and we are available for emergencies 24/7.

Components of successful wild horse management:

  1. A data collection program that monitors the health of the herd and keeps records of each individual in it.
  2. A fertility control program backed by the Science and Conservation Center to stabilize population growth.
  3. A rescue program for critically injured wild horses and humane euthanasia in cases where a horse would otherwise die a cruel death. (See Valentina with her horrible broken leg.)
  4. An emergency response program, including a feed program during severe drought. We have been able to sustain the entire herd in good condition even during the worst of natural conditions.
  5. A habitat improvement program; cleanups and downed barbed wire removal plus any other safety hazards to wild horses.
  6. A road patrol program to keep horses off the roads and out of dangerous areas. (and close gates that people forget to close)
  7. Fencing maintenance program, which is important in keeping horses safely behind the fences.

SRWHMG does not receive any funds or grants from the government and we do not charge them for what we do. Our programs enjoy broad public support, and rely entirely on YOU, the public.

Our non profit organization is a public asset,  and the Salt River wild horses are an economic boon for the State of Arizona and a historic treasure that we carry into the future.

What is Humane Birth Control and Why is it Important?

We use PZP (Porcine Zona Pelucida) immuno-contraception to stabilize population growth. It is darted in the field by our certified volunteers, without capturing wild horses. PZP is the only acceptable form of birth control for wild horses, as it does not harm nor influence their hormones and therefore does not harm or influence their reproductive behaviors and herd dynamics.

Any other form of birth control, such as geldings or overie-ectomies, are cruel, expensive, and will influence their hormones, which is why we do not support those forms of birth control for wild horses.

Birth control is important, because the herd is fenced in by civilization on all sides and their resources are limited; therefore they cannot grow exponentially. The goal of this program is for each horse born in the wild, to be able to live out its life in the wild.

PLEASE Join us in this historic movement to ensure that these beautiful wild horses remain wild and free and managed humanely.

Giving Care and Sanctuary:

We operate a sanctuary for the wild horses we rescue. While wild horses are very good at healing and at taking care of themselves in the wild, nature can be very cruel sometimes. When there is unnecessary suffering and we can do something about it, we will. Most of the time, the  rescues are necessary due to human influences, such as barbed wire, cattle guards, traffic or accidental human interference. Once we rescue a suffering wild horse we are committed to providing that horse sanctuary and a quality life. But we cannot do this without you. Please consider becoming a sponsor for one of our wonderful rescued Salt River wild horses.


YOU can make a difference!

All of the SRWHMG non-profit programs are dedicated to safeguarding wild horse habitat and using humane standards of treatment.  Every dollar of your tax deductible donation will go towards the horses directly. To donate  click here.  For checks, our mailing address is: SRWHMG, PO BOX 64264, Phoenix, AZ 85082. You donation saves lives. Thank you.

There is no reward greater, than knowing you have made a difference.

Connect with us through our social media pages;  follow srwhmg on facebook  follow srwhmg on twitter  

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Background: In 2015, when the impound notice for their removal was posted by the Forest Service, we knew that it would take an unprecedented public outrage to prevent this disastrous fate. We gave it our all; we alerted the media, we held many rallies, and we filed an injunction in federal court. What happened next, was amazing, it was the unprecedented public outrage we needed, and then some- the people of Arizona and its politicians gave these iconic wild horses a voice. Eventually, the Forest Service agreed to rescind the impound notice. Together, we changed the course of history for the Salt River wild horses, who now have a legal right to live on the Salt River in Arizona and are protected under State law. We are now under contract with the AZDA to manage the horses humanely. More than 100 news pieces can be found when you search “Salt River Wild Horse Management Group” , including pieces on CNN, the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Times and local stations ABC15, FOX10, CBS5/3tv and 12News. It is important to remember this public outrage that was a reflection of how cherished this herd is. The public wants to see these wild horses treated humanely and remain in their historic habitat.

more saved


On the top of a steep mountain, three month old Mori stood all alone, disoriented and blinded with a broken skull. We rescued her on Nov 14th 2017. Her prognosis was bleak..

about salt river wild horse management group


The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) is an Arizona non-profit organization 501(c)3, dedicated to monitor, study and protect the Salt River wild horses, who reside in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona…

volunteer to rescue horses


There are so many jobs to do, from monitoring horses on the river, to fixing fences to keep horses off the roads, to organizing and fundraising. We have sales booths and events and also there is lots of mucking to do at our Facility!

Our Mission: Ensure Their Long Term Protection and Humane Management

The Salt River wild horses are the historic and majestic creatures roaming the lower Salt River in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. They are the pride of the community, a favorite subject of photographers and the icon of the wild, free spirit of Arizona and the American West.

These wild horses were brought into the limelight during  our epic battle  for their protection; the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group together with the public gave them a voice. We worked with congress and we worked toward positive solutions with Federal and State governments. It worked; while almost gone forever, today the Salt River wild horses are protected pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute 3-1491 (aka the Salt River Horse Act).  We are now under contract with the AZ Department of Agriculture (AZDA) to manage this herd humanely. This partnership between the federal government, the State Government and a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) is a one of its kind and our groundbreaking program is finding the balance between it all.

So close to being gone forever, the Salt River wild horses now roam peacefully along the banks of the lower Salt River, enjoyed by the thousands of visitors to the Tonto National Forest. Together, we changed the course of history, together we have the responsibility to manage them humanely as part of our national heritage.