Friends of Animals is challenging U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s rejection of our petition to list the Pryor Mountain wild horses, a distinct population of horses who reside in Montana and Wyoming, under the Endangered Species Act, and the recent rule that inhibits the public’s ability to protect threatened and endangered species.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Montana, FoA is asking that FWS actually issue a 90-day finding as required.

“The Endangered Species Act requires the government to consider our petition and make an initial decision on it within 90 days,” said Jennifer Best, associate attorney for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “However, a new rule regarding the petition process that went into effect on Oct. 27, 2016, chips away at the Endangered Species Act by requiring the public to submit petitions to state agencies first, delaying the timeline and standards for listing threatened or endangered species. FWS relied on this new rule to reject Friends of Animals’ petition to list the Pryor Mountain wild horses.”

FoA knows from past experience that states are generally more concerned about stakeholders with economic interests in destroying habitat than protecting species and do not want to deal with federally protected species.

“Time is running for the Pryor Mountain wild horses, a distinct population segment essential for preserving the Old Spanish genetic lineage of wild horses,” Best said. “They are subject to removal to reach the Bureau of Land Management’s designated appropriate management level of the herd. But an AML set at 90 to 120 horses is far below what is necessary for a minimum viable population, let alone to preserve the herd’s unique genetic lineage.”

FoA submitted its petition on June 12, 2017. It states that the Pryor Mountain mustangs’ lineage can be traced back to ancient horses who first evolved in North America and Eurasia, but are thought to have temporarily gone extinct following the last Ice Age, before being reintroduced by Spanish settlers.

The Old Spanish genetic lineage has since been lost in Spain due to domestic breeding.

The Pryor Mountain Mustangs are smaller than most wild horses in North America, standing between 13.2 and 14.3 hands. The horses have a unique conformation, reflecting their Spanish heritage, with a narrow but deep chest, distinct withers, short back and sloping croup with a low-set tail.

Friends of Animals has been fighting for the Pryor Mountain wild horses for years. We filed a lawsuit against the BLM to stop the round-up and permanent removal of 20 young wild horses between the ages of 1 and 3 in the Pryor Mountain Herd Management Area in the summer of 2015. And when the BLM’s Billings, Montana Field Office asked for comments about that proposed roundup, FoA delivered ours in person, presenting the “Worst Government Agency” award to the Billings’ staff for treating wild horses as pests that need to be controlled. Montana’s BLM has already zeroed out six of seven of the original wild horse Herd Areas in the state.

Read more about FoA’s efforts to protect wild horses here.