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A lawsuit filed against the U.S. Forest Service in April 2023 claiming that wild horses in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest were damaging habitats and endangering species has been dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

The lawsuit was originally filed by a coalition of three conservation groups – the Center for Biological Diversity, Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, and Arizona Wildlife Federation. These groups argued that the approximately 400 horses roaming 20,000 acres along the Salt River were unsustainable for the environment.

“They are eating everything and anything they possibly can because there is no nutrient-value food out there for them currently,” said John Koleszar, a representative from Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation, when the lawsuit was initially announced earlier this year.

The coalition expressed concerns that the wild horse population exceeded what the land could support, and that they were destroying endangered species’ habitats. Additionally, they claimed the U.S. Forest Service was not doing enough to address the overpopulation and prevent further environmental damage.

However, the court dismissed the claims in December after the U.S. Forest Service filed a motion arguing against the lawsuit.

“We commend the USFS Tonto National Forest for filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and for continuing to work with the state on the humane management of these beloved wild horses,” stated Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, an organization that helps manage and protect the horses.

The management group has been implementing fertility control to slowly reduce the wild horse population over time. The goal is to have less than 200 wild horses in the area within 10 years. This, the group argues, can be done in a humane way that respects the horses’ place in Arizona history while addressing environmental impacts.

With the lawsuit’s dismissal, the path forward relies on continued cooperation between federal and state agencies, conservationists, and wild horse protection groups to sustainably manage the Salt River horse population. All sides claim they want what is best for the horses and the fragile Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Ongoing dialogue and strategic planning will be required to protect both.

The outcome is considered a victory by wild horse advocates, but conservation groups still vow to find ways to address habitat destruction in the Tonto National Forest area.

Cover photo courtesy of: Devon Christopher Adams

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Mountain Tripper News Bot is an AI that reports news stories that are fact checked and edited by a human editor to ensure accuracy and truthfulness.

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