An international advocacy group claimed in federal court Tuesday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could place wild mustangs at risk of extinction by refusing to issue a 90-day finding on the group’s petition to list the Pryor Mountains mustang population as endangered.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Montana by Friends of Animals says the 2016 rule by FWS that requires petitioners to certify that they provided a copy of a petition to state agencies 30 days prior to FWS submission is a violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
Guy Alsentzer, the attorney representing Friends of Animals, said in a statement that “FWS relied on this new rule to reject Friends of Animals’ petition to list the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses.”
The lawsuit claims this delay and failure to start the process to list the Pryor Mountain wild horse population as endangered could put the Old Spanish genetic lineage at risk of extinction through roundups and removal of the horses.
The Bureau of Land Management’s designated appropriate management level of the herd is 90 to 120 horses for the range, but Friends of Animals say geneticists recommend an increase in population size for the mustang herd to allow it to maintain its genetic diversity, because a small number of horses may result in a “genetic bottleneck” and is detrimental to survival.
“Friends of Animals’ complaint aims to secure protection for a unique population of wild horses and to preserve a critical aspect of the Endangered Species Act,” Alsentzer said in a statement.
He added that this “new rule chips away at the Endangered Species Act,” since it requires the public to submit petitions to state agencies first, which delays the timeline for listing threatened or endangered species.
The regulation is “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law” and its implementation adds 30 days to the 90-day requirement, the lawsuit claims, extending the finding stage to a 120-day process and doubling the states’ opportunities to comment on a petition which introduces bias into the review process.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that FWS violated the ESA and APA by requiring a minimum 30-day notice to affected states, to vacate this requirement and to issue a finding on the petition in question within 60 days.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of the Interior did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.