Defending Devil’s Garden’s Wild Horses (2014)

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit to stop the U.S. Forest Service from eliminating thousands of acres of protected territory, and rounding up as much as 80 percent of the wild horses.


August 31, 2017

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In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which requires preservation of rangelands on which wild horses exist. Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in northeast California’s Modoc National Forest is officially designated as wild horse territory managed by the U.S. Forest Service (a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture), which has been the homeland of wild horses for at least 150 years.


In August 2013, the Forest Service authorized a decision that would eliminate more than 25,000 acres of wild horse territory and reduce the wild horse population by as much as 80 percent. The agency failed to study the impact of privately-owned cows and sheep who graze in the Devil’s Garden and outnumber wild horses by as much as eight times during the summer.

The Forest Service also failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, or formally amend its governing land and resource management plan, despite the significant change in the environmental and legal status quo, as required by the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Forest Management Act.

In 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to stop the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed actions. That lawsuit included a coalition of animal and environmental groups, public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP, and pro bono attorney David Zaft.

The lawsuit asserted that the U.S. Forest Service’s decision violated federal animal protection and environmental laws and unlawfully prioritized ranchers and privately-owned livestock above federally protected wild horses.

The District Court ruled in favor of the Forest Service. The Animal Legal Defense Fund appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In August 2017, the D.C. Circuit agreed with us, finding that the Forest Service engaged in improper decision-making because the agency did not adequately explain its change in policy, and failed to adequately consider the potential environmental impact of changing the boundaries. The decision requires the Forest Service to reconsider its decision to remove the disputed section from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory.

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