Group caring for Salt River wild horses wins state contract to manage herd

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
If anyone is caught doing any harm to the horses, they will face a misdemeanor charge. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) If anyone is caught doing any harm to the horses, they will face a misdemeanor charge. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The group will continue to work for safety on the roads for both horses and people. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The group will continue to work for safety on the roads for both horses and people. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The state is paying $1 for the contract with public donations helping keep the group afloat. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The state is paying $1 for the contract with public donations helping keep the group afloat. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

It's been a long three years for the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, but the organization, which has been looking after the beloved horses for years, celebrated a major milestone Monday. It won the official contract with the Arizona Department of Agriculture to manage the herd.

“It is the culmination of all of our work, as well as just the beginning of it!” according to a news release announcing the contract.

The SRWHMG and its president, Simone Netherlands, have been vocal in their advocacy for the horses.

"The Arizona public gave these horses a voice," said Netherlands.

It was nearly three years ago that the Tonto National Forest set off a firestorm by announcing its intention to remove the herd from the land the animals had roamed for more than 100 years.

[TIMELINE: Battle for the Salt River Wild Horses]

"These horses are our heritage. These horses have been here for centuries. What a crime it would have been to get rid of them," said Netherlands.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Wild horses to be removed from Salt River; conservationists furious (Aug. 2, 2015)]

[SLIDESHOW: Salt River wild horses]

Outraged, the SRWHMG jumped into action, garnering support for the herd from all over the country and even filed a federal injunction to keep the U.S. Forest Service from moving the horses.

In the end, the horses were not only allowed to stay in the Tonto National Forest but legislation was passed to ensure their protection.

[RELATED: Wild horses will be allowed to stay at Salt River (Dec. 11, 2015)]

"They are protected from harassment, from shooting. They are protected from someone causing them any injury and protected from slaughter," Netherlands said during a celebration on New Year’s Day.

[RELATED: Protected: Salt River wild horse preservation begins in 2018 (Jan. 1, 2018)]

As part of that mandated protection, the new law required a nonprofit be selected to humanely manage the herd.

The SRWHMG will do that.

Volunteers had been monitoring the herd on a daily basis for years already.

"When the (U.S.) Forest Service said these horses have no value, let's get rid of them, we stood up for them. We gave it our all and today, finally three years later, we now have our management protocol which we said from the beginning," said Netherlands.

[RELATED: The best time to photograph Salt River wild horses]

The group cares for injured horses as needed, operates an emergency hotline (480-868-9301), and was instrumental in the Maricopa County Department of Transportation's decision to place blinking message boards advising drivers to watch for horses along Bush Highway.

"If it wasn't for the opportunity to control the horse population in Arizona then we would be faced with the only alternative, rounding them up," said George Walsh, a certified darter.

[RELATED: Salt River horses hit by cars prompt changes to Bush Highway]

Now the SRWHMG will implement a variety of additional measures it proposed to the state, including a birth control program to humanely reduce population growth.

"This fight has been about preserving the true last piece of wild that Arizonans can still see in their own backyard," said Netherlands.

[MORE: Animal news on azfamily.com]


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