Bad legislation considered last year has reared its head again with the introduction of SB 1057. If passed, this legislation would give feral horses currently ravaging the Apache National Forest the same legal protection as the Salt River Herd received in 2016 through A.R.S. s 3-1491. This was a bad idea in 2016, and it's a bad idea today.
With this protection, feral horses essentially become the legislatively preferred species on its landscape to the detriment of native wildlife and plants. According to the US Forest Service: "These feral horses are causing excessive damage to forest resources, including harmful effects to the habitats of federally threatened and endangered species in the area as well as outcompeting native inhabitants of the Apache National Forest. Worsening drought conditions have exacerbated these problems." This concern isn’t just abstract, as trail camera pictures from 2021 showed feral horses chasing elk cows and calves away from tanks until the horses drink it dry.
The horses also cause severe damage to riparian areas. Riparian areas are some of the most biologically ecosystems in the state; supporting aquatic, amphibious, and terrestrial animals, along with a vast tapestry of plant life. When they are damaged, biodiversity is reduced, stream courses can permanently change, erosion can increase, and water quality and storage capacity can be reduced. The Forest Service was actually sued in 2020 by conservation groups after they documented extensive, uncontrolled damage by the horses.
The herd’s annual growth rate is estimated at 20%. Allowing the herds to continue to grow without active removals and all of the tools needed for adequate management is just bad for the ecosystem these overpopulated horses are ravaging to survive; it’s bad for the horses, which are “all bones and skinny, they’re dying” according to Mike Gannuscio with the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, as quoted by AZ Family.
The proposed legislation would effectively leave birth control as the only means of population management. Even if it was practically possible to administer the birth control—which only lasts for one year—to every horse, every year, it could take over a decade to see meaningful decreases in populations. This demonstrates the absurdity of taking forest management decisions out of the hands of experts and in the hands of legislators. Evidence, not emotion, should dictate resource management decisions.
Arizona BHA is closely tracking this bill. Should it move out of committee we will notify our members and supporters so they may contact their elected officials in opposition.