Group files lawsuit to stop Arizona wild horse removals

The Forest Service’s Alpine Ranger District has removed the first group of wild horses from the Apache Forest. The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros is trying to stop their sale and further removals. Photo by D Barronoss


A wild horse advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service to stop the removal of mustangs from an alpine area in Arizona where they have lived for more than 100 years.

On behalf of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB),  the FR Law Group of Phoenix, Arizona, served the US Forest Service for declaratory relief on June 28 to stop the removal of the wild horses from Apache side of the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest north-west of Phoenix, alleging multiple violations of federal law.

Despite this, the Forest Service’s Alpine Ranger District has removed the first group of wild horses from the Apache Forest. The ISPMB was granted an immediate temporary restraining order from the court to stop the sale of the horses that are destined to be sold to the highest bidder, with slaughter the most likely end result.

The ISPMB has filed further legal action to stop any more removals of the Alpine horses and is asking that these horses be declared as wild and free-roaming under the Wild Horses and Burros Act of 1971, and that the captured horses be returned to the forest.

“These magnificent Alpine wild horses are descendants of those animals who lived wild and free on our continent since being reintroduced in the 1500s. Wild horses are native to the North American continent,” the ISPMB said.

ISPMB’s president Karen Sussman said that wild horses, when undisturbed from roundups, develop very strong family bonds. She has seen family bands living together for their lifetimes.

“To witness this separation is heart-wrenching and the Forest Service will separate the families. This separation no doubt will be the first time these animals have left their bands.

“The stallions will be placed in separate pens while their mares will be in different pens. The stallions will be crying for their mares and mares will be screaming for their stallions,” Sussman said. “Undisturbed wild horse herds work together for the good of the entire herd.”

The Forest Service said the horses “pose an imminent threat to several federally listed and threatened species”.

It said the decision to remove the horses was “a necessary step to ensure that the Apache National Forest is healthy and sustainable for years to come”.

The Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests were established in 1908 when the Forest Service dissolved the Black Mesa National Forest and divided its components into other units. The two forests were administratively joined in 1974. These forests were established on lands that were long occupied by Native peoples including today’s White Mountain Apache Tribe and, more recently, by Euro-American cattle and sheep ranchers and settlers who began entering the area in the 1860s.

ISPMB is the oldest wild horse and burro organization in the US, and the only group to manage entire herds of wild horses in conservation, in order to study and observe their behaviors over 20 years. ISPMB was also the motivating force, along with its first president, Velma Johnston, known affectionately as Wild Horse Annie, in getting the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act passed through Congress. This law passed with a unanimous vote by Congress.

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