- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Horse conservationists are protesting federal officials’ plans to remove and possibly auction up to 100 wild horses from the Tonto National Forest on the northeastern outskirts of the Phoenix.

People have until Friday to claim what the forest rangers say are unauthorized livestock before the year-long removal process begins. A notice from the U.S. Forest Service says any unclaimed horses will be impounded.

Those that cannot be auctioned off will be “otherwise disposed of.”

“They’re going to kill them, that’s what disposed of means,” Salt River Wild Horses Management Group president Simone Netherlands told KPNX-TV.

“This is an absolutely inhumane thing that our government is planning,” Netherlands told KPHO-TV.

A Tonto National Forest Service representative told KPNX-TV the removal is a matter of public safety, since the federal agency is not authorized to manage the animals.

Netherlands said the forest service should have worked with her group to figure out another solution, but the forest service says it has no authority to contract out management for the herd.

“We’re very upset that the Forest Service has chosen not to work with us,” Netherlands said. “We’ve offered humane solutions at no cost to the Forest Service.”

Salt River Wild Horses Management Group estimates there are about 500 of the animals roaming across the state. The horses arrived in Arizona 400 years ago, when Spanish Conquistadors and missionaries arrived in the area.

The group of animals was never given a wild horse territory, and federal officials say they’re strays.

KPHO-TV reports the horse advocacy organization is planning a protest for Friday. About 10,000 people have signed the group’s Change.org petition.

Tonto National Forest officials told KPHO-TV that nothing short of an act of Congress would stop the horses from being removed.

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