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Activists and agencies try to balance the West’s horse mythology against herd impacts.
December 13 2018
he horses stood chest-deep in the river, pulling up long strands of eelgrass with their teeth. There must have been 20 of them, in colors ranging from nearly white to ruddy brown. The babies stood wobbly in the current. My partner and I floated quietly past in our kayak, trying not to spook them. But it was a sweltering Friday in July, and we were followed by hollering college students in rented innertubes. Beer coolers floated along behind them, and music reverberated off the canyon walls. Uninterested and used to the party, the horses barely looked up.
A stone’s throw from metropolitan Phoenix, the Salt River runs through the Tonto National Forest, where deer, bighorn sheep and bald eagles live amid cactus and mesquite bosques. But the most famous and controversial inhabitants are the area’s “wild” horses. Once slated for removal by the U.S. Forest Service for reasons of public safety, today these horses are protected by state law. Now, in the first arrangement of its kind, a state government is working with a nonprofit to manage horses on federal land. Now long-feuding entities must work together to find a way to balance the horses — and the mythology of the American West they represent — with river and land conservation and public safety...
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