BERNALILLO — Sandoval County commissioners might not have heard it straight from the horse’s mouth, but a report by a consultant offered almost two dozen suggestions on how to begin solving the long-time free-roaming horse problem in Placitas.
Heather Balas, president and executive director of New Mexico First, a nonprofit that facilitates community discussions to formulate public policy recommendations, discussed 21 suggestions developed by her and a task force with commissioners at their meeting Thursday night.
County leaders said little about her presentation. The county has not budgeted for certain solutions. The commissioners heard about a lack of consensus: some residents want to protect all the horses, others want to protect some of the horses, while others want to protect the environment instead.
Nobody knows for sure how many wild, feral and abandoned horses have roamed properties around Placitas for the last century or more. State law is unclear on who has responsibility for them. The full report is available on the websites for the county and New Mexico First.
New Mexico First contracted with the county late last year to form a task force that could study the issue and gather feedback. It held meetings with Placitas residents and other stakeholders, which culminated in a community forum May 3.
At the forum, over 60 participants broke into small groups and discussed the suggestions. They voiced their varying levels of support, with some caveats and concerns. Then they used electronic devices to cast votes for the final suggestions.
Balas clustered the suggestions into themes during her presentation to the commission. She also explained that people at the forum could vote three ways: to fully support, to partially support and not to support. She aggregated the two kinds of support.
Information gathering on the horses had a great deal of support: 90 percent for getting an initial headcount; 95 percent for conducting a independent, balanced and more representative survey of community members on the proposed suggestions; and 65 percent for creating an information-sharing website. Concerns included survey costs and whether a headcount could be used to remove horses.
Legal remedies received a fair amount of support: 88 percent for clarifying government authority and regulations (such as requesting an opinion from the attorney general) and 75 percent for enforcing existing policies and regulations, although some advocates oppose horse removal.
Sustainability and drought got a fair amount of support: 72 percent for funding a sustainability study (which would determine the appropriate ratio of horses per acre), 58 percent for reducing or eliminating feeding and watering of unclaimed horses and 94 percent for educating community members.
Contraception for mares was favored by 89 percent. Balas described conflict with the New Mexico Livestock Board on who has authority to administer fertility control. Sandoval County Attorney Patrick Trujillo described the board, after inconclusive negotiations, as “insanely dysfunctional.”
Public safety and fencing garnered considerable support: 85 percent for maintaining fencing along roads and highways, 85 percent for increasing horse signage on highways and roads, 76 percent for encouraging private landowner fencing and 78 percent for fencing pueblo and federal public lands.
Relocation was more controversial, with 49 percent supporting it for some horses, with concern about how the horses would be handled and where they would go, and 45 percent supporting restricting horses to “welcoming” areas of Placitas, although that might reduce interaction between herds.
Adoption proved more popular: 81 percent for promoting horse adoption, with some concern about who would adopt the horses and the effort to prepare horses for adoption, and 81 percent for funding the care of horses already captured, particularly horses already corralled that would not be adopted.
Proposals for a permanent shelter for horses had varying levels of support, with 89 percent favoring a local horse sanctuary and 58 supporting a free-roaming horse state park, with some concern in both cases about the availability of rangeland and funds.
A more comprehensive solution, establishing a multi-jurisdictional range and horse management agreement, had support from 91 percent, even though participants recognized it would require voluntary cooperation between government entities and possibly new county ordinances.
One public commenter at Thursday’s meeting, as well as 96 percent of the forum participants, supported strengthening animal welfare laws and policies. The county lobbyist, for instance, could urge state lawmakers to increase penalties for abandoning or mistreating horses.
Commissioner Don Chapman favored the legal strategies suggested in the report and wondered if Placitas residents would be willing to do some fundraising. Commissioner Glenn Walters questioned who would implement the suggestions.
New Mexico First contracted for only the report. Other entities will have to pursue the suggestions in the report. Balas said the forum participants really looked to the county for leadership on solving the problems outlined in the report.
In other business, the commission approved bids for a trash compactor at the county landfill and janitorial service, appropriated funds from the state for tenant improvements by a qualifying local business and authorized refinancing of a county bond series, at some savings to the county.
The county canvass board meeting scheduled for June 6, to make the election results officials, was postponed until June 12.
Chapman announced the county commission and Rio Rancho Governing Body will likely hold a joint meeting July 1 to publicly unveil the new economic development organization.