Major Legal Win for Salt River Wild Horse Protection

Tonto National Forest Successfully Defends Humane Treatment of Wild Horses While Apache Sitgreaves National Forest Blatantly Disregards It 

Phoenix, AZ (December 5, 2023) – A lawsuit aimed at overturning the humane management program that is protecting the Salt River wild horses in the Tonto National Forest has been dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Phoenix Division. 

The lawsuit was filed in April of this year by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and sport hunting organizations. It contained numerous factual inaccuracies about the Salt River wild horses. It also omitted any reference to the state law protecting the horses and authorizing the Arizona Department of Agriculture to manage them.  

The complaint alleged that the United States Forest Service (USFS) failed to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) related to the Intergovernmental Agreements (IGA) and the management plan. Yet it neglected to mention that the Salt River wild horse habitat area was analyzed under NEPA in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Tonto National Forest Plan issued in March of 2022. 


On July 31, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which manages the nation’s national forests, including the Tonto National Forest, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. At this point, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) and the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) also filed a motion to intervene in the case. The intervention papers corrected misinformation contained in the CBD complaint, including the outright factual errors.  The judge granted the USFS’s motion to dismiss the original lawsuit, but allowed the CBD an additional 30 days to amend its complaint. The 30-day deadline was on Nov. 30 and no amendments were filed. 


The case is now effectively dismissed in the lower courts.

“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,” said Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. “The court's decision will allow us to continue to manage and care for the Salt River wild horses, who are beloved by the Arizona public and an important part of our state’s history.”

Netherlands’ group has long advocated for protection of the Salt River wild horses and currently  manages them through a partnership with the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

“This was a misguided attempt to destroy a successful, humane wild horse management program. We are pleased the court recognized the lawsuit’s lack of merit and granted the motion to dismiss,” said AWHC Executive Director Suzanne Roy. “The CBD and the sporthunters are completely out of step with the wishes of the  public, which stands firmly on the side of protecting the Salt River wild horses as iconic Arizona natural treasures. “

Roy cited recent polling that showed 88 percent of Arizonans support protecting the Salt River wild horses. 

The Salt River wild horses in the Tonto National Forest are protected under a state law passed in 2016 in response to public opposition to a USFS plan to eliminate the horses from the forest. The law protects the horses from harassment, shooting, killing, slaughter, and capture and authorizes the Arizona Department of Agriculture (AZDA) to enter into an IGA with the USFS for the management of the horses. 


The effective dismissal of the lawsuit came on the same day that the neighboring Apache Sitgreaves National Forest shipped 45 Alpine wild horses to Texas kill pen as part of an ongoing effort to eliminate wild horses from the forest.  Noting the stark contrast between the two forests’ approach to wild horse management, Netherlands stated, 


“The Apache Sitgreaves National Forest should follow the Tonto National Forest’s lead in managing wild horses humanely. Under no circumstance should the Forest Service ever send horses captured from our public lands to kill pens and slaughter auctions.”


Fortunately, rescue organizations worked together to rescue the 45 Alpine wild horses, however hundreds more are at risk as the Apache Sitgreaves Forest continues to round them up. 


The SRWHMG and AWHC are urging the public to contact Randy Moore, Chief of the USFS to urge him to support humane wild horse management with fertility control and to protect wild horses on public lands managed by the USFS from slaughter. 


About the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group: The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG) is an Arizona non-profit organization dedicated to protect, monitor, and humanely manage the Salt River wild horses. The SRWHMG has secured agreements and protections for this iconic and beloved wild horse herd in the Tonto National Forest and the group partners with the State of Arizona for the day-to-day management of the herd, including a highly successful fertility control program that has stabilized population growth within its first two years. 

About the American Wild Horse Campaign: The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation's leading nonprofit wild horse conservation organization, with more than 700,000 supporters and followers nationwide. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. In addition to advocating for the protection and preservation of America's wild herds, AWHC implements the largest wild horse fertility control program in the world through a partnership with the State of Nevada for wild horses that live in the Virginia Range near Reno.