[January 17th] We had some meetings at the Tonto National Forest yesterday. The first was about the draft Tonto plan and the second about the metal riverfence.
We have some clarification on the gate/fence that will go across the river. It will not be barbed wire, it will be some kind of installation with floating flaps that kayakers could pass through. It still sounds too crazy, ugly and dangerous to imagine. The risk of someone getting stuck in it and drown is too great.
The risk of dehydration when the horses cannot get to the river is too great as well. We, SRWHMG, are expected to solve that problem by relocating them. Granted, we are good at moving wild horses humanely, because we have a lot of manpower and we can walk the horses. However, in an area this vast, they could be standing under a tree, dying, just about anywhere and we might not find them in time. It will take a lot of resources and manpower, to move them, and then we still cannot guarantee that no horse will die. We feel that is an unacceptable risk for protected Salt River horses.
But let’s forget about the danger to horses for just a minute and talk about just people aspects. The metal fencing right along the river will be placed too close to the river, and does not follow a 100 year flood line. Because of this close proximity, we are putting the Forest Service on notice of the increased risk that kayakers and tubers might have and not be able to safely get out of the river, when the water is high.
The fence is meant as a boundary fence between reservation and Salt River wild horses. In principle, this looks great on paper. However, the Forest Service went ahead with this project without public input, by using a categorical exclusion for maintenance of a boundary fence. However, there was never a boundary fence there. 60 years ago there was a fence, but it was located at least a quarter mile away from the river. Because of the categorical exclusion, they did not have to go through the longer NEPA process where public input is required.
We have proposed our solution, which is basically moving most of the fencing farther away from the river in an angle towards the road. This would give most horses a chance to get to the river while still serving it’s original purpose. It is a compromise, because we would still have to move horses out of a part of the forest, but from a smaller area, which is more doable.
However, they are not budging. What’s next, we are not sure yet.
First we have our follow up meetings with AZDA and the Governors office. We will keep you posted. We know you are rearing to go for a protest, but it is only our very last resort. Please do keep in mind that we have to be able to work with these agencies for the long run, or the horses will be in much deeper trouble.
From the Forest Service, we are looking for more consideration for river recreationalists, more honest concern for the horses’ safety and humane management program, as well as some consideration of what the forest will look like for years to come.
Please keep your comments utmost polite and professional and please no threats of taking down any fencing. That is a federal offense with heavy penalties plus it puts horses in danger. Please don’t even think about it.
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