BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is appealing a federal court ruling preventing the sterilizing of a herd of wild horses in southwestern Idaho that opponents of the plan fear could set a precedent.
The notice filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Idaho challenges a ruling in September ordering the BLM to revise its 2015 plan.
The plan calls for sterilizing the herd and replenishing it with wild horses captured elsewhere to maintain a herd of 50 to 200 horses.
"They are taking habitat designated for wild, free-roaming horses and turning it into an on-range holding area for captured and sterilized mustangs," Suzanne Roy, executive director of American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said Wednesday. "Part of our concern was that this would set a precedent."
The group sued in January 2016, and Roy said it will "vigorously defend" the September ruling at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The federal court in that September ruling said the BLM plan violated a requirement that the herd be able to produce healthy foals. The federal judge also ruled that the BLM didn't consider "the significant impacts its decision may have on the free-roaming nature of the herd nor explain why its decision is appropriate despite those impacts."
Heather Tiel-Nelson, a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Land Management, declined to comment about the lawsuit itself but did have information on the wild horses that roam in what's called the Saylor Creek Herd Management Area.
The BLM says the range can support 50 horses. The herd twice since 2006 has been rounded up and held in the agency's Boise Wild Horse Corrals after wildfires destroyed rangeland forage.
The most recent capture involved 195 horses, Tiel-Nelson said, following a wildfire in August 2010. The BLM in September 2011 released 30 of those horses — 13 females and 17 males — back onto the range. She said a count this spring found the herd had nearly tripled with 71 adults and 12 foals.
Wild horses far exceed U.S. government population goals, and officials say the free-roaming horses that number about 73,000 can face starvation. Captured horses are offered for adoption, but 46,000 are being held at government corrals and pastures costing taxpayers $50 million annually.
"It's very emotional for many, many people," Tiel-Nelson said.
She said that her family in 2009 adopted a horse captured off the range, as have many of her co-workers within the wild horse and burro program at the BLM.