N.M. wild horses still protected under prevailing law

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Photo by Melissa Babcock


As published by Ruidoso News

With the dust finally settling on the New Mexico Legislature’s 2017 session, most of the bills and memorials dealing with wild horses died in committee.

The dead include House Bill 446 called Wild Horse in Statute and the accompanying House Memorial 102, Protection of Wild Horses. Also among the dead were House Joint Memorial 17, Protection of Wild Horses, and Senate Bill 126 introduced by Republican Pat Woods from Broadview, that would have changed livestock and wild horse definitions. That last bill was opposed by many local wild horse advocates as an attempt to eliminate the existence of wild horses in the state by classifying horses as livestock, but supported by some who contended the bill’s provisions protected property owners as well as horses. A second bill introduced by Woods, Senate Bill 184, Disposition of Trespassing Wild Horses, also died in committee.

The only survivor among the passel of proposed legislation was House Bill 390, Equine Rescue and Shelter Right of Refusal. The bill gives registered equine rescue or retirement facilities the first right of refusal to purchase an unclaimed horse classified as estray, or those that have been cruelty treated or caught while trespassing. If an owner doesn’t claim an estray equine within the allotted few days after the last publication of notice, a rescue or retirement facility will be given the chance to purchase the horse. If neither action occurs, the state livestock board has the right to sell the horse, which would include buyers with the intent to slaughter. If no bids are received, the board can order the horse to be humanely euthanized.

Patience O’Dowd, who heads the Wild Horse Observers Association, the group that interceded after the roundup of a dozen members of a wild horse herd in Alto, offered some observations about the bills considered in the state legislative session that ended earlier this month.

She said the insertion of exemptions for horses of Spanish colonial origin in Wood’s SB126 was not pushed by her organization, it was another group that works with the livestock board.

“It was a shill,” she said. “All it did was make a bad bill look good. It did not improve things at all.”

Thankfully some legislators were educated enough on the issue not to be fooled, she said. They correctly understood the rule of law.

“WHOA had two very successful years in the legislature in 2006 and 2007,” O’Dowd said. “In those two years we passed SB655 and three memorials.”

The senate bill was the basis for the successful court cases and was codified in state statute, defining Spanish colonial horses, requiring them to be relocated to horse preserves, allowing for adoption and providing for the control of wild horse population by means of birth control.

During the 2017 legislative session, three lobbyist organizations attended every committee meeting speaking for SB126, O’Dowd said.

“They all were ganging up to support 126, which is a bad bill for wild horses and would remove their protection as wild horses,” O’Dowd said. “So we had a stream roller coming down on these wild horses while we’re in the middle of (the) district court (case) and they were attempting to basically play legislative favoritism and roll over our judicial branch of government.”

WHOA previously received a temporary injunction against the sale of the Alto herd after it was rounded up, and is challenging in district court, the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Livestock Board insistence that wild horses are estray livestock.

People just didn’t bother reading the bill when they saw that an animal protection voters group backed it, O’Dowd said.

“Luckily there are people in roundhouse who know how to read for themselves,” she said. “Luckily, a new fiscal analysis was written at end that admitted to legilslative favortism and a clear attempt to overturn all financial investment and time of the people and the court and the previous legislature.”

Under SB126, few if any horses would have been considered wild and pass the test for protection. The bill also contained nothing to stop the livestock board from declaring a wild horse an estray livestock. The board previously has never declared any horse “wild,” not even the Spanish colonials, despite the board’s own genetic testing showing the Placitas horses at 91 percent to 96 percent Spanish markers, significantly more than the 80 percent probability required, according to WHOA’s web presentation on the bill. The other problems with the amended bill were that wild horses would have to originate on public land, they could be classified as livestock and would have preempted federal law by removing the requirement that livestock be domestic or owned. The bill would have placed the wild horses under a board that never has recognized their existence as wild, the website stated.

Senate Bill 126 wasn’t taken down for lack of time, O’Dowd said. “It was taken down because of those issues. We did everything every step of the way we could under the law.”

“Because of that, the wild horses prevailed and they are still protected and we still have a viable court case and we will still be there in court for those horses,” she said. “We would have anyway, because we would have taken further action. The horses have nothing to hide from. The truth and law are on their side. Since 126 didn’t pass, the horses remain under the same protection that they had from existing laws 10 years ago.”

While HB390 was “a decent bill” in its original form, amendments changed that, O’Dowd said.

“For the horse rescuers, HB390 gives them first right of refusal, so they don’t have to compete with kill buyers or the public,” she said. “They have to pay $100 or $200, which is what they usually pay now, sometimes less. It just gives them first opportunity, so it will protect a few estray livestock equine from kill buyers. But those not bid on in the first round and that the rescue groups don’t take, the kill buyers will take them in the second round. That second option wasn’t there in the (original bill).” According to testimony, the livestock board and industry requested the amendments and the sponsor allowed them, she said.