Local advocates for wild horse herds in New Mexico piled into a bus at 3:30 a.m. Thursday and headed to Santa Fe to voice their views on an amended version of a state senate bill they feared would lead to the elimination of wild horse herds that roam the Alto area north of Ruidoso.
Despite the efforts of advocates, they reported that members of the Senate Conservation Committee passed the bill in less than five minutes. A series of hearings led to modifications of the original bill submitted by State Sen. Pat Woods, a Republican from Quay County, that eliminates the classification of domesticated horse.
While under the amended version horses still would be lumped into the broad definition for livestock that fall under the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Livestock Board, specific exceptions were included for Spanish colonial horses and for a “wild horse” defined as an “unclaimed horse without obvious brands or other evidence of private ownership that is determined by the board to originate from public land or federal land or to be part of or descended from a herd that lives on or originates from public land; but does not include horses that are subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government pursuant to the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.”
Public land does not include federal land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service or state trust land.
Under the amended version, a wild horse captured on private land in New Mexico at the discretion of the livestock board “shall be” humanely captured and relocated to state public land or to a public or private horse preserve; adopted by a qualified person (for an adoption fee); or humanely euthanized provided the option is the last resort when the horse is determined by a licensed veterinarian to be crippled or otherwise unhealthy or cannot be relocated to a public or private wild horse preserve or adopted.
A new section throws in another wrinkle for the future of “wild horses” such as the herds in Alto. That section in the amended bill provides when requested by the board to determine the viability of a specific New Mexico wild horse herd on the range they occupy, the range improvement task force of New Mexico State University will evaluate the range conditions to determine the number of wild horses that the range can support while maintaining its ecological health.
The task force will report the results of the evaluation to the board. “If required, the board may cause control of the New Mexico wild horse herd population through the use of birth control and may cause excess horses to be humanely captured” and relocated, adopted or euthanized.
The task force also would be required to submit an annual report to the legislature on the results of evaluations each year and other appropriate comments on the status of the overall New Mexico range.
A second bill introduced by Woods, SB284, which has not yet been heard in committee, specifically deals with trespassing horses on private land. It gives the livestock board jurisdiction over any horse trespassing on fee simple private land and charges board representatives to attempt to determine ownership and simultaneously to notify animal rescue organizations.
“If no owner can be identified after five days, the horse shall be offered to animas rescue organizations. If no animal rescue organization assumes ownership after two days, the board may auction the horse,” SB284 states.
“These people apparently are hell bent on getting rid of the wild horses,’ one wild herd advocate said.
Noting that the incoming president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association backed the bill, contending it provided a remedy for a private land owner beleaguered by trespassing unowned horses, a Santa Fe attorney with government background said, “My question is, if a deer or elk eats her trees, does she had a remedy? If a skunk sprays her dog, does she have a remedy? If a coyote eats her cat, does she have a remedy? Is the state required to provide a remedy at taxpayer expense for every intrusion of wildlife onto private property?”
The attorney also questioned if any data exists showing that overgrazing by wild horses has occurred on private land and how that data compared to grazing by other wild animals.
Local wild herd advocates mobilized in large numbers after the livestock board in August 2016 hauled away a dozen members of a herd in Alto that had been penned by a private land owner. Some neighbors contended the landowner rounded up the horses outside her land and brought them into a fenced area for the board to load. A lawsuit was filed by the Wild Horse Observers Association that resulted in a temporary restraining order against the sale of any of the horses in the herd. Under an agreement approved by the court, the horses were returned to the county to acreage that minimized interaction with humans until the court decides on the status of the herd as wild. That case still is pending in the 12th Judicial District Court.
Some advocates contend the state Game and Fish Department is a more logical agency to handle wild horses as it does large game animals. They also point to the financial benefits from tourists who come to the area to see the herds. The woman who filed the original complaint against the removed herd said her fencing was damaged. She said she feared for her mare who was in season and for her own safety when she encountered the herd out riding.