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Frequently Asked Questions about the Salt River Wild Horses:

1. What are Salt River wild horses?

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

These wild horses were brought into the limelight during  an epic battle  for their protection; the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group rang the alarm bell and together with the public, gave them a voice. Through congress with Federal and State governments, we worked toward positive solutions. 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 under contract with the AZ Department of Agriculture (AZDA) to manage this herd humanely, which is a great success.

So close to being gone forever, the Salt River wild horses still roam peacefully on 20.000 acre habitat along the banks of the lower Salt River, enjoyed by the thousands of visitors to the Tonto National Forest.

However, there are still organizations who would like to see them gone and they have now sued the Tonto National Forest over NEPA requirements and are asking a federal judge to halt the humane management of the Salt River wild horses. Once again, we have to fight to defend them. If you’d like to help, we have started a gofundme for legal fees.

2. Are the Salt River horses wild and native horses, or stray livestock/feral horses?

The Salt River wild horses are a historic population of unbranded, unclaimed, wild and free-roaming horses that were born in the wild and are now protected by State Law within the national forest.

Evidence indicates that wild horses have been living on the lower Salt River since well before the Tonto National Forest was created in 1902.  It is believed that the herd is descended from the Spanish horses brought to Arizona by Spanish missionary Father Eusebio Kino in the 1600’s.

salt river wild horse management group faqEarly evidence of their existence is easily found in the Arizona State Archives, in an Arizona Champion Newspaper article, dated January 25, 1890, which classifies horses in the Salt River Valley as “native stock.” To be considered native stock at that time, there had to be at least 5 generations who knew about them, so this article effectively dates them back to 1790.

The Salt River Horse Act, was passed and signed by Governor Doug Ducey; this bill establishes and clarifies that the Salt River horses are indeed “not stray livestock”.

In the research for the 2015 court case and injunction against the roundup, more evidence, and many eyewitness accounts chronicle the presence of free roaming horses on the lower Salt River throughout the modern era, into the 1970s, (when the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed), to the present day.

It was found that the FS’ claim in 2015, that the Salt River horses are not “wild”and thus had to be removed, was based on a 1974 FS letter that acknowledged “dense riparian vegetation … makes it very difficult to … even observe these animals.” The decision to deny the Salt River horses protection under the 1971 Act ran counter to the longstanding FS policy to manage these horses prior to 1971. In fact, then FS Regional Rangeland Ecosystem Specialist Curtis M. Johnson stated that the horses “were not considered unauthorized … they were considered wild horses” and managed as such throughout the 1960s under the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960.

In a May 17, 1979, Phoenix Gazette article, Perl Charles, a former Forest Service official and noted conservationist (for whom many hiking trails are named) confirmed that the horses were wild and had been present on the Salt River “for 35 years that he knows of, and maybe since the turn of the century.” At the time, Mr. Charles was advocating for protection of the population of around 50 wild horses, stating, “It’s a delightful thing to watch them running free.”

During his career with the Forest Service, Perl Charles estimates he rounded up and removed more than 3,500 head of wild horses within the national forests. Therefore, Perl Charles should be a credible authority on identifying wild horses, versus alleged “branded” Indian horses present at the time.

Simply put, the claim that these horses were stray livestock  was not supported by historical evidence. When the “notice to impound”  was published on July 31st 2015, no one – including neighboring tribes or the State of Arizona — claimed these horses.  Therefore, it may be assumed that they are actually wild horses and not stray livestock.

2. Do the Salt River horses help or harm the environment?

Of the 8 million annual visitors to the Tonto National Forest and the thousands of animals who call it home, the herd of free-roaming horses living along the lower Salt River is compatible with, and supportive of, a healthy ecosystem.   

There are no scientific data published in any peer-reviewed journal about the Salt River wild horses or the lower Salt River habitat. Yet still, some organizations claim there is “no vegetation left” because of the horses. This is 100% false. Horses have both positive and negative affects on their environment, just like any other species.

eagles and horses

Claims that these horses might pose a threat are based on scant research in other  geographic regions that are not relevant to the lower Salt River region. The data from these regions indicate that wild horses have both positive AND negative impacts and environmental benefits, much like ANY other wildlife species, including birds.

In fact, the 12-mile stretch where tseedlings from manure copyhe horses still roam is one of the most biologically rich areas along the entire 200-mile Salt River, in spite of the human caused challenges it faces. Photo-documentation accumulated by members of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group supports this observation with evidence over long periods of time. That evidence shows healthy and growing trees, seedlings sprouting from horse manure, abundant plants and flourishing wildlife diversity in the very area on the river where the horses roam.

Bald eagles on the river have been making a comeback since the early 1980s, and eagle nesting was particularly successful this year in the exact area that the horses call home, according to the Audubon Society.  The horses and the bald eagles have been cohabiting  together successfully and may even have a symbiotic relationship.

The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group cares deeply about the area, not only about the wild horses, but also about the birds, the environment and all other wildlife.  Volunteers pick up trash every single day and we work with conservation groups in any and all environmental projects. Picking up the ever growing trash and pollution benefits the ecosystem in which thousands of species have been harmoniously cohabiting for centuries. The lower Salt River should be preserved as is for future generations to come.

3. What are other pressures on the environment in this area?

The lower Salt River faces a myriad  of human-caused challenges that should be addressed before scapegoating wild horses.  


The Salt River ecosystem in the Tonto National Forest is impacted by many factors, including agricultural activities and heavy recreational use. The Salt River is littered with trash, and the bottom of the river has accumulated several layers of aluminum cans in areas. Legal, as well as illegal, recreational use has impacted the riverbanks and the soil conditions. Items such as fishing wire, lead bullets, metal and downed barbed wire, pose a serious safety hazard to wildlife, as well as to people and wild horses. The SRWHMG Habitat Improvement Program focuses on the cleaning of wild horse habitat and our members pick up bags of trash on the river daily.

In addition, the health of this natural habitat is heavily impacted by Salt River Project’s (SRP) policies regarding water levels and the volume of water released from the Stewart Mountain Dam.

The recorded levels of output from Stewart Mountain Dam show less than 8 cubic feet per second (CFS) released for months on end during the winter, which is less than 1 percent of the average output of 900 cubic feet per second during the summer months. Then in contrast, every year there are also huge floods of over 20.000 CFS, which have a serious affect on the riparian area sweeping away tree saplings and trash alike.

Water levels, obviously, have a significant effect on plants, aquatics and animal life in the area. We believe this to be a potential source of adverse outcomes, for both wild horses as well as the riparian areas along the Salt River.

5.  Why is it so important to preserve these wild horses?

It is crucial that we make informed decisions based on what future generations of Americans would want us to do.  

These wild horses are important to the local, environmental and global communities for many reasons, including recreational enjoyment and economic, cultural and educational contributions. The herd is iconic, representative of nature at its best: wild and free.

It is also accessible — tourists and photographers come from all over the nation to see these wild horses, should their numbers be reduced, it would be far too difficult for people to find them.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the wildlife viewing industry in the U.S. garners a figure that grows every year. Wild horse ecotourism, in particular, is on the rise. On the Salt River, visitors can spend an entire day with wild horses for  just $8 — the cost of a Tonto National Forest day pass. The Salt River wild horses draw visitors to the area, providing a boost for local businesses and the economy.

These horses are also important to the Salt River Pima and Fort McDowell Sovereign Nations and as such are protected by both tribes because of the horses’ long and rich heritage with indigenous peoples and because of their historic and cultural significance.

Local high schools and universities have taken their classrooms outdoors to study the wild horses. Very few urban areas exist where students can travel a short distance to gain tremendous experiential knowledge in an outdoor classroom that extends beyond a school’s four walls. Educational seminars about the wild horses are offered routinely at the Usury Pass Center on the Salt River.

6.  Who supported protecting these horses?

The USFS notice of intent to remove the Salt River wild horses caused the SRWHMG to jump into action which provoked strong public outrage in 2015. Hundreds of people attended our rallies, thousands of people contacted the Forest Service and our elected representatives in Congress and the State House spoke out. These are links to the letters written by  U.S. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, U.S. Representatives Matt Salmon, David Schweikert and Krysten Sinema, and U.S. Representatives Martha McSally, Ann Kirkpatrick, Michelle Lujan Grisham, who all sent attached letters to the USFS. In addition, the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community released a strong statement of support  for the protection of the horses. Hundreds of organizations and businesses, as well as literally thousands upon thousands of people, were strongly opposed to the removal of these animals. In fact, nearly 300,000 people had signed a petition calling for their protection. Governor Doug Ducey was instrumental in finding a solution and proposed that if the Federal Government didn’t want to protect them, that the State would. It was the unprecedented outrage and the voice of the public, that saved the Salt River wild horses.

Doug Ducey on Twitter: "Feds should leave our free roaming & #wildhorses alone. But if they don't, #AZ will do everything we can to protect them & provide sanctuary / Twitter"

Feds should leave our free roaming & #wildhorses alone. But if they don't, #AZ will do everything we can to protect them & provide sanctuary

7.  What is the current management arrangement?

Pursuant to the Salt River Horse Act, The USFS  and the AZDA have entered into an Intergovernmental agreement and the AZDA has hired the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group for the humane management of the Salt River wild horses.

Tonto national forest

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). 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. Key components of the humane management plan include:

  • A humane fertility-control program to stabize the growth rate and reduce the numbers of the herd, slowly over time. Immuno-contraception PZP is humanely darted by certified individuals. This is done in the field without need to capture animals.
  • A data collection program and software app that monitors the health of the herd and keeps records of each individual in it.
  • Range management measures, such as addition of water sources to facilitate horse migration and use of all of their habitat and alleviate riparian areas or areas where horses are congregating in close proximity to people.
  • Public education and other measures to promote public and horse safety.
  • A rescue program for critically injured wild horses who would otherwise die a cruel death.
  • An emergency response program, including a feed program when necessary. We have sustained the entire herd in good condition even during the worst of drought conditions.
  • A habitat improvement program organizing cleanups and downed barbed wire removal plus any other safety hazards to wild horses.
  • A road patrol program to keep horses off the roads and out of dangerous areas. (and close gates that people forget to close)

    These programs are 100% paid for by the public at no charge to the State of Federal government. Our programs enjoy broad public support, because it keeps these cherished horses where they belong, on the range.

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

    7.  Why PZP and not geldings, overectomies or gonacon?

    We use PZP (Porcine Zona Pelucida) immuno-contraception to stabilize and reduce the population growth. Our program is highly succesfull resulting in an average of 1 to 2 foals per year in the entire herd. After years of research and application we find 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. his is of utmost importance. It also does not affect pregnancies or nursing foals and is safe for predators and the environment also.

    Any other form of birth control, such as geldings or overyectomies, are cruel, expensive, and  influences their hormones, which then influences their behavior, which is why we do not support those forms of birth control for wild horses.

    No Birth control is not an option, 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.

    8. Why do we rescue wild horses?

    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.

    We cannot do this without you. Please consider becoming a sponsor for one of our wonderful rescued Salt River wild horses.

8.  What can I do to help?

With a vital donation you can become their guardian!

Great responsibility lies with us, The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. We manage the Salt River wild horses under State Law ARS 3-1491 under contract with the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

It is our job to prove what we have always said: “this herd can be managed for the public and by the public!”. We invite you to be part of this important mission, with a monthly donation, you will become an important guardian of this herd.

Our humane management programs are multifaceted; from improving their habitat, to emergency rescues, to public education, to our important fertility control program.  Reducing the population growth ensures that every horse born in the wild can stay in the wild.

These monumental feats are not without monumental costs. Although we are the designated management group, we do not get paid or receive any government grants.  We count 100% on YOU, the public, to continue our important work.

Please, will you consider a donation to ensure their future? Because we are an all volunteer group, every dollar of your donation will go towards the horses well being.

Please click the donate button and set your amount, every dollar counts! You can also make the donation in someones honor, and give that to them as a gift! They will receive a beautiful thank you card certifying the donation in their name.

If you like paypal, our address is: SaltRiverHerd@Respect4Horses.com, and for checks our mailing address is: SRWHMG, 4610 N. 68th street #477, Scottsdale, AZ 85251.  Your donation is tax deductable.

Please connect with us through our follow srwhmg on facebook follow srwhmg on twitter and 

Thank you for your support!

“History is only made by people who care about the future”.  -Simone Netherlands.