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'Stop the roundup of wild horses': Lawsuit claims Forest Service unlawfully removing Apache-Sitgreaves horses

The lawsuit claims the forest service is committing multiple violations of federal law in the removal of horses that have called the forest home for a century.

PINETOP-LAKESIDE, Ariz. — Editor's note: The above video aired during a previous broadcast.

The United States Forest Service is rounding up Arizona's iconic wild horses and removing them under the label of  "unauthorized livestock" on public land, according to a lawsuit filed in Phoenix on Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed by the nation's oldest wild horse organization, claims the nation's forest service is acting in the unlawful removal of wild horses from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

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The organization claims that the United States Forest Service is in violation of multiple federal laws, including the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the Natural Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act. The lawsuit also looks to ensure that the wild horses living in the national forests are entitled to protection under the 1971 act.

"The very Agencies tasked with protecting these horses, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, continue to defy the 1971 law as they remove wild horses and burros without monitoring the landscape to determine who really is damaging the lands," said Karen Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros.

"This must stop, and this is our first action of many to come."

The forest service could not comment on the pending litigation due to how recently it was filed, a representative said.

The forest service does offer an FAQ on its website on the topic of "unauthorized livestock" or "feral horses" that states the removal is part of an effort to stop the horses from damaging the forests' ecosystems.

"These feral horses are causing excessive damage to forest resources, including harmful effects to the habitats of federally threatened and endangered species in the area as well as outcompeting native inhabitants of the Apache National Forest," the forest service FAQ said.

This is a developing story. Tune in to 12 News for the latest information.

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