Friends of Animals statement on the U.S. Forest Service filing a notice with the court that it is withdrawing its July 31 notice, which classified wild horses in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona as “unauthorized livestock” and authorized their “impoundment”— so they could be auctioned off, sold privately or disposed of: 

“Friends of Animals is confident this turnabout with regard to withdrawing the Notice of Impoundment was a result of our lawsuit and we are extremely happy the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is going in that direction,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program.

Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit in August against the USFS to stop the round-up and permanent removal of wild horses in Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Friends of Animals is the only organization that stayed in litigation until it got results—the Forest Service’s formal withdrawal of the Impound Notice. Earlier claims of victory by other organizations who did not stay the course were premature.

FoA’s lawsuit states that USFS’ July 31 notice violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WHBA) because the agency did not make any determination there were excess horses that needed to be removed. The defendants also failed to fulfill their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to prepare any environmental analysis or Environmental Impact Statement, and completely failed to involve the public in its decision-making process prior to issuing the Impoundment Notice.

The lawsuit also states that contrary to the USFS’s claims, there is documentation that these wild horses, known as the Salt River wild horses, were in the area long before passage of the WHBA in 1971, which means they should be protected under the law.

At a hearing in November, while the Court did not give the green light allowing Friends of Animals to depose USFS officials regarding the proposed roundup of Salt River, the judge seriously doubted that the USFS complied with the National Environmental Policy Act in making its decision to round up Salt River wild horses. The judge asked for more argument regarding whether USFS’ decision this summer was legal. He also questioned why the USFS at this point would not just withdraw its Impoundment Notice altogether.


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