By Andrea Gelfuso

While some wild horse advocates are cheering the passage of Arizona’s HB2340 as a victory for wild horses, there’s a little more to the story.

First, the legislation will not take effect unless Arizona’s Department of Agriculture (ADOA) signs an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service by Dec. 31, 2017; that agreement may never be signed.

Friends of Animals opposes any such agreement: Wild horses belong to the American people and must be protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Any attempt to preempt federal protection sets a dangerous precedent for state control over federal resources.

For now the horses remain in limbo, and the Forest Service does not recognize the herd as protected under federal law.  

But what the bill says – and what it no longer says – about Arizona’s view of protecting the Salt River horses is even more troubling. A previous version of HB2340 stated that the Salt River horses are “a state treasure,” and that “every effort must be made to preserve” them. Once Arizona legislators learned that claiming the horses as state property could cost Arizona $800,000 a year, the language regarding “treasuring” and “preserving” the horses was deleted.  And HB2340 includes no funding to protect the Salt River horses.

Want more so-called good news? Sure, the bill provides that a person can’t harass, kill or slaughter a Salt River horse. But a person could capture or even euthanize a Salt River horse for “humane purposes,” as long as that person has gotten permission in writing from either the ADOA or the county sheriff.

What is the mission of the ADOA? “To regulate and support Arizona agriculture in a manner that encourages farming, ranching and agribusiness while protecting consumers and natural resources.”

Salt River wild horses are found in Maricopa County, Arizona. Who is the Sheriff of Maricopa County? Joe Arpaio, who proudly created the first chain gangs of juvenile offenders, spends between 15 and 40 cents per meal to feed Arizona prison inmates, and noted that “inmates are fed only twice daily, to cut the labor costs of meal delivery.”

So decisions about “humane” treatment of these horses will be made by either the pro-ranching, pro-agribusiness ADOA or by a county sheriff’s office that doesn’t treat people humanely.

Finally, some wild horse advocates are cheering because the bill provides that the State “may enter an agreement with a private entity to address any issue relating to the Salt River herd.” But what if a private entity sells Salt River horses for slaughter? That’s not prohibited under HB2340. If you have a problem with that, feel free to contact the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.”