- Associated Press - Friday, December 11, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - The Tonto National Forest will permanently drop plans to round up and remove wild horses near Arizona’s Salt River after months of public pressure and backlash.

In August, the Forest Service delayed its plans to remove nearly 100 of the free-roaming horses. They could have started the removal on Dec. 18, but the Forest Service officially withdrew its impound notice on Friday, according to Tonto National Forest spokeswoman Carrie Templin.

The agency will instead work with stakeholders to develop a long-term management plan for the wild horses, said Templin. The Forest Service originally wanted to remove the horses for public safety reasons and cited concerns about nearby vehicle collisions.

“We are really, really grateful for this before the holidays, because everyone was getting very nervous,” said Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group.

Her group had been trying to establish a humane management plan that didn’t include removing any horses. Netherlands says talks with the Forest Service will continue.

Some wilderness and wildlife experts supported the roundup because they believe the horses, which are not native to the area, destroy the river habitat and harm plants, birds and fish.

Templin said the Forest Service has not been monitoring the horses’ environmental impact.

Arizona lawmakers also showed support for the animals. Last week, nearly all members of the state’s U.S. House delegation sent a joint letter to the Secretary of Agriculture asking why the U.S. Forest Service hadn’t yet developed a management plan for the horses.

State lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey have also spoken about the issue.

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