PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A Federal judge sided with ranchers who claimed the Forest Service let a wild horse herd living in a federal forest get too big, threatening endangered steelhead. The ranchers graze their cattle on the same land.
In 2008, the same judge barred Loren and Piper Stout from grazing cattle on their allotment in federal forest of Murderer’s Creek Wild Horse Territory, after finding that stream banks in the territory had been trampled. The couple blamed oversize wild horse herds for the degradation of streams in an area that is designated as critical habitat for endangered steelhead.
In 2009, the Stouts sued the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the horses were eating all the grass that their cattle used to graze on and were leaving the land damaged. They also said the Forest Service failed to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service about its Wild Horse Plan.
The Forest Service’s Wild Horse Plan, implemented in 1975, stated that free-ranging horse herd sizes should not exceed 100 adult horses. That year, the service estimated there were 174 horses on the on the Murderer’s Creek Territory. The service said it hoped to reduce the herd by more than one-third.
In 1984, the service revised the plan to allow 140 horses roam the area. A 2006 census of the animals indicated there were more than 400 horses living around Murderer’s Creek.
District Judge Ancer Haggerty found that the Forest Service violated its own plan by failing to keep the horse population in check. Haggerty said the agency also violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to prepare a biological assessment examining whether the plan would harm any endangered species. He remanded the matter to the Forest Service, ordering the agency to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service within one year about whether the plan complies with the Endangered Species Act.