(March 28, 2017) The management of the wild horses on the Wyoming Checkerboard is a story about persistence. On the one hand, there’s the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that’s determined to eliminate them to appease ranchers who want the land to graze their cattle. On the other hand, there are the wild horse advocates and most of the American public who are equally determined to keep these federally-protected wild horse on the 2.4 million acres where they belong.
The Wyoming Checkerboard is comprised of both public and private land in the southern part of the state. According to the BLM, about 2,600 wild horses live there on the four Herd Management Areas (HMAs) – Great Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek, Abode Town, and White Mountain. The Checkerboard horses make up about one third of the population in Wyoming, a state that promotes the presence of wild horses in its tourism ads, inviting visitors to “Roam Free.” (See https://youtu.be/pb9zhD89bJQ)
But, if the BLM has its way, most of these horses won’t be there much longer. This fall it’s planning yet another roundup on the Checkerboard that would bring the population down to 1,276 wild horses – or low Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs).
So why another roundup in the Wyoming Checkerboard when there’s roughly 1,037 acres of land for every wild horse who lives there now and when the BLM has already removed 1,263 wild horses in a 2014 roundup?
Quite simply, persistence – persistence on the part of the BLM to pander to ranching interests, to avoid its responsibility to protect wild horses, and to violate multiple federal statutes in order to support welfare ranching, selling out not only the wild horses but also the American taxpayers who subsidize it.
In a recent Scoping Notice, the BLM has presented its newest proposal to remove 1,029 more wild horses from the Wyoming Checkerboard as a “gather” to “comply with the 2013 Consent Decree Rock Springs Grazing Association v. Salazar.” Admittedly, it also acknowledges that this proposal is replacing a 2016 “gather” that was prevented by a Tenth District Court of Appeals ruling on the “2014 checkerboard removal activities” – meaning it was illegal.
But here’s the real heart of the problem…
Back in 2010, the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) decided to renege on a 1981 agreement that allowed a limited number of wild horses on private lands in the Checkerboard. So its members visited then Interior Secretary Sylvia Baca who advised them to sue the government as a strategy for obtaining funding from Congress to roundup the horses. Ironically, the BLM is tasked with protecting wild horses and burros, and it falls under the auspices of the Department of the Interior.
Following Ms. Baca’s recommendation, the RSGA did indeed sue the BLM in 2011, demanding that wild horses be removed from both private and public lands in the Checkerboard.
The BLM’s response…it gave the RSGA exactly what it wanted by signing a Consent Decree in 2013 that called for the permanent removal of wild horses from the Salt Wells and Great Divide Basin HMAs, permanently sterilizing all wild horses in the White Mountain HMA, and reducing by half the number of wild horses allowed to live in the Adobe Town HMA. So much for protecting wild horses in Wyoming!
Now the BLM is threating to remove 1,029 more wild horses from the Checkerboard. Does it have other options? Most certainly. But here’s where the BLM is, well, persistent in pursuing a pattern of bad policy.
· Instead of exploring on-the-range management for wild horses on the Wyoming checkerboard, such as implementing fertility control to regulate their population, negotiating land swaps to create contiguous habitat for them, or reducing allotments for livestock grazing, the BLM persistently pursues roundups and removals that have been proven to be costly, inhumane, and ineffective.
· Instead of prioritizing the interests of wild horses and American taxpayers, the BLM persistently makes decisions that clearly benefit a handful of cattle ranchers who believe that the private and public land in the Checkerboard belongs to them and who pay far less for grazing rights on public land than they would on private land.
· allowing 255,000 cows and their calves to live on the Wyoming Checkerboard compared to only wild 1,276 horses.
And the list goes on.
Yet, persistence also plays another and bigger role in this story.
Remember the Tenth District Court of Appeals ruling on the “2014 checkerboard removal activities” that prevented the 2016 Checkerboard roundup? It was the result of a series of lawsuits filed by the AWHC and our partners. Besides finding that the BLM violated two federal laws – the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and Federal Land Policy Management Act – in its 2014 wild horse roundup, the Tenth District Court decided that the agency’s plan to round up 500 more horses from the Checkerboard was also illegal.
In fact, the AWHC has consistently lead the fight for all wild horses in Wyoming through our on-going litigation and significant victories in the courtroom.
For example, in 2016, the AWHC and our partners filed another motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals Tenth District seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed in a lower court by the State of Wyoming against the BLM. This time, the state sought the removal of hundreds of wild horses in the Antelope Hills, Crooks Mountain, Green Mountain, Lost Creek, Stewart Creek, Fifteenmile, and Little Colorado HMA’s in order to reach low AMLs.
Once again, the appellate court ruled against the State of Wyoming, finding that the Wild Horse Act doesn’t define AMLs and that the BLM is “under no statutory duty to remove animals from the seven HMAs at issue.” According to Bill Eubanks of the public interest law firm Meyer, Glitzenstein and Eubanks which represented the AWHC, “the decision had important implications for federal wild horse policy for decades to come” in that the BLM was not obligated to remove wild horses but had “broad discretion to implement other management approaches.”
Equally important, the combined force of these landmark decisions is setting major legal precedents and successfully challenging cattle and sheep ranchers who want to treat public land as their own private land and BLM’s policies that favor welfare ranching over thousands of federally-protected wild horses, not just in Wyoming but across the West. These victories, along with your support, enable the AWHC to continue the fight to keep wild horses on the Wyoming Checkerboard in this newest round with the BLM and cattle rancher – and the next.
That’s called persistence.
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