Flashing beacons warning drivers about the presence of wild horses and wildlife along New Mexico Highway 48 north of Ruidoso were installed last month near the route’s intersection with Ski Run Road.

The flashing warning beacons were warranted based on traffic data for the area, according to information from the District 2 office of the state Department of Transportation. Road crews also installed eight “wildlife activity ahead” signs, and speed radar feedback units will be added near the Brewer Service Station and Convenience Store.

The installations followed months of correspondence and calls by wild horse advocate Debra Wilcox and others, who feared horses or wildlife could be injured by speeding or reckless drivers on the highway that leads into Ruidoso.

But while the folks from Alto and Ruidoso rallied around the wild horse herds they fought to bring home, the situation doesn’t look promising for the passage of any of the legislation aimed at protecting those horses, advocates say. In fact, they are worried that Senate Bill 158, which they characterized as pro-horse slaughter, could be passed and signed by the governor.

Patience O’Dowd, president of the Wild Horse Observers Association that won an injunction against the sale of about a dozen horses confiscated in 2016 by the New Mexico Livestock Board, urged supporters to write their legislators to vote against the bill, and if it passes, to write the governor urging her to veto the bill.

The bill gives the Livestock Board control of our wild horses to wipe them out,” O’Dowd said. “The good bills were tabled. SB158 wipes out much of WHOA’s 2007 legislative wins for the wild horses, which were upheld in the courts. The NMLB has never had jurisdiction over our wild horses. That is why they lost in court twice, contrary to what anti-wild horse groups are saying in support of this pro-slaughter bill. NMLB even had to include our fence out win and our animal cruelty win from our two last court wins in SB158, but it is still a pro-slaughter wild horse wipe out bill.”

The livestock board disputes the characterization of its role and has appealed the ruling of 12th Judicial District Judge Daniel Bryant that the horses are wild, do not fall under the board’s jurisdiction and should never have been hauled to Santa Fe.

State Sen. Pat Woods’ bill 158 would amend existing law to clarify that wild horses are not livestock, and adds provisions to establish procedures for handling wild horses, including capture, relocation, adoption and euthanasia, according to the analysis by the Legislative

The bill changes the existing definition of wild horse from “a horse on public land that is not an estray” to an unclaimed horse without obvious brands or evidence of private ownership.

It authorizes the livestock board to capture and relocate wild horses, and transfer horses under the federal jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land management, or arrange for adoption or humane euthanasia “provided that this option shall only be available as a last resort” for an unhealthy horse.

The bill also allows the board to capture and use birth control on wild horses.

Livestock board officials contend a clear definition of wild horses and public land will prevent continuous litigation. The board also indicated being able to quickly move domesticated roaming horses from state custody would have significant impact on the agency.

Without clarification, the board will remain in an untenable position of either responding to requests form private citizens for relief under estray statutes, being sued for impounding animals that have not been found by a court to be domesticated and precluding the board from performing its statutory duty regarding estray horses captured on private land, board officials contended.

“Unfortunately, SB158 is supported by Animal Protection of NM-Animal Protection Voters, a 501c4, which opposed WHOA at the legislature in 2017 by supporting SB126, a pro-slaughter bill and now again in 2019, by supporting SB158 and siding with the Cattle Grower lobbyists and NMLB,” O’Dowd said. “This gives legislators an animal group to hide their bad vote behind. This time, all votes will be reported by our legislative arm, WHOA-Voters a 501c4.”

While the battle over the wild horses continues in Santa Fe at the legislature, a scuffle is on-going in Lincoln County over the fate of two colts picked up by the livestock board while the WHOA case was being tried.

Wilcox said for the second time, a hearing on whether the colts should be part of the restraining order issued for the herd in 2016, has been postponed from February to 9 a.m., April 10, on a motion for attorney fees and Wilcox’ motion to intervene.

“I was so hoping to get to the judge to figure out why they have not been released,” Wilcox said, adding that the two are caught up in the fight between WHOA and the livestock board.

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