The often photographed signs on New Mexico Highway 48 and Ski Run Road warning drivers of wild horses in the area were removed last week by a state Department of Transportation crew.
The Ruidoso News contacted the department Monday and on Tuesday, at least two of the signs were back in place on NM48, but that may only be a temporary action.
Emilee Cantrell, DOT public information officer, said new signs more in line with Federal Highway Administration guidelines will take the place of the horse signs soon.
“Keeping our roads safe is our number one priority,” she said. “There have been more than 100 accidents in the area over the last five years, so it’s absolutely imperative that we do all we can to make travel safer. That’s why we are changing the signs to better protect motorists in the area.”
However, until the new signs are ready for installation, the old signs were put back in place.
An advocate for the wild horse herds that roam the Alto area leading into Ruidoso said the four horse signs instilled local pride in the uniqueness of the area and they drew tourists. “Wildlife Crossing” signs would be a significant come down on the “mystique” and tourism scale, she said.
The advocate for the herds, including a dozen horses now impounded locally while the court decides their fate, said she thinks the action by the DOT is connected to that court case.
The signs are reminders of the conviction of many locals that the herds are wild by common definition and have been for generations, she said.
The signs were located north of Alto Café on NM48, one at Angus, and two on Ski Run Road.
Several calls by concerned residents were made to the New Mexico Highway Department asking if that agency had removed the signs. They claim they were told initially that the signs were not removed and that because of the cost of the signs, such a theft would be a felony. But a subsequent call confirmed the action was taken by the DOT.
“I firmly believe it is because of our pending court case regarding the Wild Horses of Lincoln County in an effort to get everything set up for us to fail in future cases should there be any,” the advocate said. “After all, how can they continue to claim the horses aren’t wild, if the State of New Mexico placed the Wild Horses signs in the first place?”
The case is pending in the 12th Judicial District Court and depending on the outcome, could place jurisdiction for the herds of roaming horses in the hands of the Livestock Board to be handled like cattle.
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