The Bureau of Land Management says it intends to roll back plans to spay wild mares in Oregon.

In a motion filed in federal court Wednesday, the BLM said it doesn’t have the authority to “unilaterally reverse” an official record of those plans, but that it intends to file a motion to redact the language with the Interior Board of Land Appeals in the coming days. 

Animal rights groups celebrated the latest move by the BLM, which planned this month to move forward with a controversial plan to surgically remove the ovaries of wild mares to deal with unhealthy populations of wild horses on public land in Oregon. Animal rights groups have criticized the procedure, calling it inhumane.

“The BLM made the right decision to abandon these barbaric experiments and instead listen to the strong interest the public has in seeing our wild horses protected and treated humanely,” said Brieanah Schwartz, government relations and policy counsel with the American Wild Horse Campaign, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the BLM.

“We now hope that the agency will reconsider all plans to conduct this inhumane research and focus instead on humane, scientifically recommended forms of population management, including PZP fertility control.”

At least one animal rights group remains cautious about the BLM’s latest move in court, saying it doesn’t go far enough in stopping the BLM from moving forward with sterilizations in the future.

At issue in the lawsuit, filed by animal rights groups including the American Wild Horse Campaign and the Animal Welfare Institute, is the groups’ right to observe and document the BLM’s treatment of wild horses during the procedures.

“The BLM’s sharp limitation on public observation of this government activity thwarts the important newsgathering objectives that Plaintiffs aim to achieve by observing and documenting the BLM’s treatment of federally protected wild horses,” the lawsuit states. “And thus violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the First Amendment of the U.S.”

While the BLM’s latest move may signal a shift, Theresa Barbour, research and legal consultant with the nonprofit Citizens Against Equine Slaughter, said the real issue is over the legality of the sterilizations.

“Even if they won, it would not stop these experiments from happening,” Barbour said. “It would only force BLM to provide better viewing opportunities for the public.”

Barbour said she’s concerned that any legal win in this case would not set a legal precedent barring the BLM from attempting to move forward with similar plans later.

“It never feels like a complete victory because they’re not saying ‘we’re never going to try this again,’” she said. “It’s a victory this time for the horses. Not necessarily for the future.”