After a heated debate and numerous public comments, the Sandoval County Board of Commissioners voted against an ordinance to ban the feeding of wild horses at its Wednesday, March 22, meeting.
Commissioner Jay Block, district 2, and Commissioner Michael Meek, district 3, and Chairman David Heil, district 4, voted against the ordinance. Commissioner Katherine Bruch, district 1, and Commissioner Joshua Jones, district 5, voted for the ordinance.
While the ordinance also targets other wildlife – including sheep, pronghorn, deer and bears – the main aim of the ordinance was to prevent the feeding of wild horses. Horses have been traveling across roads, mainly NM 165, and causing car crashes, which often results in their death. The ordinance wouldn’t prohibit feeding birds.
Bruch opened the discussion on the horses by calling for a restriction of feeding them countywide, not just in Placitas. However, this was later struck down to just include the Placitas area. She also proposed an amendment to include prohibiting water for animals as well.
Residents could still apply for a permit to feed the wild horses, and this process would be developed by the county as a rule-making process, Bruch said. She said this an opportunity for the county to develop this type of permitting.
Block said he took issue with the permitting and voting on a process that hasn’t been created yet and available for the public to see. Meek also agreed with Block and said a permitting process would defeat the purpose of the ordinance.
“If we jump too far in terms of just stopping it as is, we’ve neglected to recognize the issues that do exist with the current resolution,” Bruch said. “So we know that we want a way forward, but the way forward has to protect the animals as well, and we’ve got to have a process that puts them out of the proximity of danger, but also protects the citizens of our community.”
People who want to call the wild horses wild, aren’t treating them as wild, Bruch said.
The amendment to the ordinance would also include penalty reductions that align more so with other ordinances of this nature. If they violate it, people may face a $300 fine and/or up to three days in jail. This would be a reduction from the 90 days in jail originally proposed.
These people in Placitas chose to live there, Block said, the horses were there first. He continued to go on that he’s unsure of how this respects private property rights and views this ordinance as an infringement on these rights.
Block said there are other solutions including cattle guards and designated feeding areas, and the ordinance doesn’t address “stupid drivers.” Heil also said he’s concerned this ordinance is a “jump ahead” and an overreach on the county’s part. He said he thinks there is more work to be done.
While this ordinance is aimed to improve public safety for both animals and people, it hasn’t been without its controversy in the county. Several Placitas residents have spoken out against the ordinance, and some have said they’d continue to feed the horses anyway – with or without an ordinance.
“If you have a 750-pound animal on your front porch, maybe 10 of them, trying to walk around when you have a three-year-old, it’s a little bit concerning,” Bruch said. “I think that we need to recognize that we cannot treat these animals as pets. They are not pets.”
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