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Local nonprofit receives Arizona nod to oversee Salt River horses

Another victory, of sorts, this week for the wild horses that roam along the Salt River and the 100 volunteers who've been looking after them.
Simone Netherlands shares news of the contract awarded to Salt River Wild Horse Management Group to see to the care and preservation of the 200+ wild horses ranging near the Salt River east of the Phoenix area. (Photo: Pete Scholz/12News)

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST, Ariz.— The Arizona Department of Agriculture gave formal control of wild horses to a local volunteer group Tuesday.

Two years ago, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill, making it illegal to harass, shoot, kill or slaughter the Salt River horses roaming along the river bottom in the the Tonto National Forest in central Arizona.

According to state archives, thousands of wild horses have called federal and tribal lands "home" for centuries.

“The Salt River wild horses are a living piece of Arizona history, a remnant of our pioneering American spirit,” said Simone Netherlands, President of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG).

For a number of years, volunteers formed an informal group of equine stewards for the legendary herd of wild horses. On a daily basis, about 100 volunteers monitor the horses, seeing to their health and well-being.

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They also keep a close eye on their roaming patterns, seeing that they don't stray too far away from designated grazing areas along the Salt River and nearby reservoirs, or become a hazard for motorists passing through the area.

READ: MCDOT working to make roads safer after several wild horses are killed on Bush Highway

Under the renewable, one-year contract, SRWHMG will implement a management program with the following components: a birth control program to humanely reduce population growth in the Salt River wild horse herd; emergency feeding and diversionary watering as needed; maintenance of fences and gates and rescue and sanctuary of injured wild horses when needed.

"We're going to do it humanely by darting them with birth control," Netherlands said. "We're going to make sure that not one horse ever has to be rounded up from the Salt River. It doesn't mean there will be no babies, it just means that the birth rate is going to equal the growth rate."

RELATED: Nearly 200 wild horses found dead in muddy, dried up pond on Navajo Nation

When asked what this type of program was going to cost the state of Arizona, Netherlands replied, "One dollar."

The remainder of costs--for the birth control medicines and associated supplies--would come from donations which poured in after word spread that the herd was about to rounded up in August, 2015.

“We look forward to continuing our successful public/private partnership with federal, state and local officials to protect the Salt River wild horses a well as the safety of public who loves to watch them,” Netherlands continued, promising management of the horses by and for the public.