BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal appeals court has dismissed an effort to allow the sterilization of a herd of wild horses in Idaho.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month granted a request by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to stop the effort.
Documents filed by BLM seeking the dismissal of its own appeal didn't include a reason.
"This case threatened to set a dangerous precedent for the sterilization of wild horses throughout the West," said Nick Lawton, an attorney representing American Wild Horse Campaign and other groups.
The BLM in 2015 released a plan to sterilize horses in the Saylor Creek Herd Management Area and replenish the herd with wild horses captured elsewhere to maintain a herd of 50 to 200 horses.
The American Wild Horse Campaign, The Cloud Foundation and Return to Freedom sued in 2016, fearing the case could set a precedent. A U.S. District Court in Idaho ruled in September that the herd had to be able to produce healthy foals, and the BLM appealed last month.
Federal officials didn't immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Lawton said federal agencies sometimes file appeals to extend the time they have to decide whether to mount a challenge. At any rate, he said, "it's all over."
The federal court in the September ruling said the BLM plan violated a requirement that the herd be able to produce healthy foals. The federal judge also ruled that the BLM didn't consider "the significant impacts its decision may have on the free-roaming nature of the herd nor explain why its decision is appropriate despite those impacts."
The BLM says the range can support 50 horses. The herd twice since 2006 has been rounded up and held in the agency's Boise Wild Horse Corrals after wildfires destroyed rangeland forage.
The agency has said the most recent capture involved 195 horses following a wildfire in August 2010. The BLM in September 2011 released 30 of those horses — 13 females and 17 males — back onto the range. The agency said a count this spring found the herd had nearly tripled with 71 adults and 12 foals.
Wild horses far exceed U.S. government population goals, and officials say the free-roaming horses that number about 73,000 can face starvation. Captured horses are offered for adoption, but 46,000 are being held at government corrals and pastures costing taxpayers $50 million annually.
Wild horse advocate groups have questioned federal population goals for wild horses as being on the low side.
Suzanne Roy, executive director of American Wild Horse Campaign, said that sterilizing the Idaho herd could have led to the sterilization of herds in other states. Her group and the others had planned to battle in the appeals court, but that's no longer necessary with the BLM withdrawing its appeal.
"This is a very important decision from our perspective," Roy said. "It affirmed that the BLM has a legal mandate to manage wild, viable herds."