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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS | WEST COUNTY / SANTA CRUZ ISLAND

Horses to Stay on Island Until Court Hearing

April 03, 1998|MIGUEL BUSTILLO

The herd of horses roaming wild on Santa Cruz Island will be allowed to remain there for at least a few more months until the U. S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decides its fate.

Contending that the 15 horses stand in the way of a plan to restore the island's natural habitat, the National Park Service and some of the island's former owners are seeking to bring them to the mainland.

But the Santa Barbara-based Foundation for Horses and Other Animals has sued the Park Service and members of the Gherini family to stop the move, claiming that the animals are no danger to the environment and have historical as well as scientific value.

The group contends that the so-called Heritage Herd consists of wild horses that are genetic descendants of the ranch animals brought to California by Spanish settlers in the 1800s. The group has the backing of one former owner, Francis Gherini.

A federal court judge ruled in favor of the Park Service last year, giving it the right to remove the horses. The foundation appealed the decision, however, and the 9th Circuit Court issued a temporary stay of the lower court ruling. On Thursday, the court decided to extend that stay until it hears the appeal, which is scheduled for June.

"We're very pleased," said veterinarian Karen Blumenshine, who brought the plight of the horses to the attention of animal rights groups. "The Gherinis have stated that if they removed the horses, they would give them away to friends. If you remove the horses, you end their wildness."

Tom Gherini said he and his brother, John, are also satisfied with the decision because the court appears to have expedited the hearing process.

"They're deciding to do everything at once, which is good," he said. "It would make no sense to let us remove the horses now if we might have to bring them back later."

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