As published by Ruidoso News
An Alto, N.M., wild horse was fatally shot, possibly on Tuesday, and left to die on an isolated gravel road in the Lincoln National Forest.
The news has upset wild horse advocates and reignited debate about who is responsible for wild horses in New Mexico, especially if one is intentionally killed. Patience O’Dowd, president of the Wild Horse Observers Association, said a wild horse supporter was notified of a horse that had been shot and its location.
“Upon investigation, she determined the young wild stallion had been brutally shot by the side of a gravel/dirt road and, bleeding profusely, had run about 100 feet before falling down and dying,” O’Dowd said.
Lincoln County Sheriff Robert Shepperd said his office received a call about the horse’s death, but because the act apparently occurred on the Lincoln National Forest, the case was turned over to the U.S. Forest Service.
If the shooting involved a game animal such as an elk, the state Game and Fish Department would be notified and handle the incident, said Smokey Bear District Ranger Jodie Canfield.
“I think it is a really unique situation in that those feral horses don’t really have anybody with jurisdiction over them,” she said. “They used to have the livestock board that would have handled it. Even though it is public land, we don’t have any jurisdiction over those animals. I know it was turned over to our law enforcement.
“The only thing we would have to go with would be if there are animal cruelty laws in Lincoln County. We basically submit an incident report and refer it to the county.”
Forest Service Patrol Capt. Canuto Moline said he would refer questions to a department public information officer, but no response was received by press time.
But O’Dowd contended that the shooting “was an illegal act of extreme animal cruelty and larceny, both of which are felonies.”
“Moreover, shooting from the side of the road, as well as shooting an animal that is protected by law, are both further illegal acts,” she said.
O’Dowd said wild horses are protected under animal cruelty laws of New Mexico.
“New Mexico’s protected wild horses of Lincoln County retain their state’s protected status on these federal lands,” O’Dowd said, citing a 1976 precedent ruling that the state is free to enforce its criminal and civil laws on those lands.
The wild horses in Alto were the subjects of a three-year legal battle involving the New Mexico Livestock Board. Some private landowners pushed for a roundup and auction of the horses, claiming they were a nuisance. Advocates fought successfully to return a confiscated herd to Lincoln County.
In October 2018, District Judge Daniel Bryant ruled that the horses were colonial in nature and were not livestock nor under the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Livestock Board. The horses confiscated by the board in a 2016 roundup by a private landowner were released back into the Alto area to reunited with other free-roaming horses in the area.
The battle continued in the state legislature as opposing factions tried to pass a new law governing the horses, but no bill passed.
O’Dowd said the community is grieving and very angry over the stallion’s death.
“WHOA/WHOLC have written an Inspection of Pubic Records (Act) request and is also working to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in this malicious and criminal behavior,” O’Dowd said.
“This deliberate act was seemingly designed to terrorize the community of Alto by cruelly targeting their beloved living historic treasures, the protected wild horses of Lincoln County,” she said.