"In 1971, Congress recognized that “wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people”. 16 U.S.C. § 1331. Congress, therefore, announced the policy that “wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected . . . and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public land.” Id. With respect to the Heber Wild Horse Territory, the United States Forest Service (“USFS”) is directed to protect and manage wild free-roaming horses as components of the public lands. See 16 U.S.C. §§ 1333(a); 1332(a)."
"In 2005, the USFS capriciously determined that approximately 300 to 400 horses living and grazing in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest located near Heber, Arizona, were “trespass” horses and that they should be removed. Despite the fact that this area encompassed a federally-protected wild horse territory, the USFS summarily concluded that all the horses in that area migrated from the reservation borders of the White Mountain Apache Indians to avoid the Rodeo-Chediski fires in 2002. A group of local residents and a coalition of horse advocacy groups prevented the USFS from removing the horse through civil action. That efforts involved hundreds of hours of volunteer attorney time to build the case, including interviews of several dozen local residents, pouring through historic writings and old photographs, deposing several current and former representatives of the USFS and private residents regarding the status of the horses and the historic presence of wild horses in the area, and commissioning an expert report showing that the behavioral patterns of the horses in question in fact demonstrate that they are “wild,” as opposed to escaped domestic animals."
"In 2007, this group obtained a court approved stipulation requiring, among other things, that the USFS formally recognized the Heber Wild Horse Territory. The USFS acknowledged that “the Heber Wild Horse Territory still exists and has not been dissolved” and that “wild horses are by law an integral part and component of the natural system of the public lands, as expressed by Congress in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 as amended.” The USFS specifically agreed to work with the public in the “development of a written Heber Wild Horse Territory Management Strategy in accordance with the provisions of the [Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971].” USFS also agreed to conduct an appropriate analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq. (“NEPA”), and finalize Management Plan for the Heber Wild Horse Territory. Moreover, the agreement mandates that the USFS to refrain from gathering or removing any horses from the Heber Wild Horse Territory and associated public lands until the USFS finalizes the Management Plan. Despite agreeing to complete, with public involvement, an analysis and appropriate environmental document pursuant to NEPA and develop a written Heber Wild Horse Territory Management Strategy in accordance with the provisions of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1331 et seq. (“Wild Horses Act”), USFS has yet to do so."
"To further this effort, we have been working to further protect the interests of the horses. This involve a pending appeal of the proposed Land Management Plan for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, as well as coordinating meetings with local and regional representatives of USFS. WE are prepared to assist in the process of developing the much-awaited Heber Wild Horse Territory Management Strategy. Importantly, we have continue to monitor the Heber Wild Horse herd and have successfully prevent any further round-ups by USFS over the last several years."
Anthony W. Merrill