DC Circuit Brief Filed to Preserve Federally Protected Wild Horses in CA’s Modoc National Forest

On behalf of wild horse advocates, we have filed a brief seeking to ensure the integrity of public lands in California’s Modoc National Forest that for more than three decades have been allocated for use by federally protected wild horses, in addition to livestock and endangered and threatened wildlife.  In 2013, the Forest Service announced that it would be eliminating nearly 24,000 acres of public lands from the center of the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory, meaning that wild horses can no longer access the meadows and water sources located in this area nor will there be any genetic interchange between the two remaining isolated wild horse units.  The Forest Service’s sole justification for the decision—which was strongly urged by the local Farm Bureau whose members graze domestic cattle and sheep on these same public lands at below-market rates that are highly subsidized by taxpayer dollars—was that this area had been erroneously added to the wild horse territory three decades earlier as an administrative oversight and thus the agency was merely correcting that previous error.  In reality, however, the Forest Service formally incorporated this area into the territory in 1991 after an extensive public planning process.  Accordingly, we argue that there is no basis in the decisionmaking record for summarily reversing course as to the treatment of these public lands, nor are there any grounds for avoiding the procedural safeguards that apply under the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when an agency is undertaking an action, as here, that will result in a significant change to the status quo with inevitable environmental consequences.  Our brief can be accessed here.