By Dylan Woolf Harris, Elko Daily Free Press
ELKO — Horse advocates successfully intervened Wednesday in a federal lawsuit that decried wild horses management in Nevada after arguing their interests were not represented by the plaintiffs or defendants.
The Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation filed suit in December against the feds, alleging that expanding wild horse populations were detrimental to the range and wild animals, including horses. The suit said damage caused by horse herds didn’t allow for multiple use on public land.
The plaintiffs called for the government to immediately round up excess horses and burros and sell, auction or “dispose” of them instead of house the animals in long-term facilities.
Since then, two separate court motions to intervene were filed on behalf of wild horse advocates, who believe the intent of the lawsuit is to clear horses from public land and allow for their slaughter.
In the original complaint, NACO said it merely wants the Bureau of Land Management to follow the Wild Horse and Burro Act, and denied that it sought to remove all horses from the range.
In January, Laura Leigh, president and founder of Wild Horse Education, said in a motion her interests were not represented in the lawsuit by plaintiffs, who she said “seek to eradicate wild horses from the range to maximize their members’ subsidized interests on public lands.” Leigh’s motion described the BLM as an “overworked, understaffed and budget-challenged agency that relies on flawed data, analyses, conclusions and methods to remove wild horses” from public land, and therefore also couldn’t represent her.
Leigh, who is a photojournalists and educator on wild horses, argued if the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs it would diminish her right to enjoy the animals.
In addition, Leigh is involved in a separate lawsuit challenging the boundaries of the Owyhee Complex and the BLM’s claim that it suffers from an overabundance of wild horses, which her motion argues could have implications in NACO’s lawsuit. Leigh said she has been to more wild horse roundups than anyone else, including federal employees, NACO members and the public.
About a month after Leigh asked the court to intervene, American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, Terri Farley and Mark Terrell filed a joint motion to intervene as well.
Along with aesthetic interests, Farley and Terrell argued their businesses would be affected if the BLM agreed to the terms of the lawsuit. Farley is an author who writes about horses and Terrell runs Wild Horses of Nevada Photography, which sells photographs and offers photography tours.
“The BLM has shown a propensity in the past to settle lawsuits … in ways that do not protect wild horses,” the motion states.
The plaintiffs took no position on the intervention requests, but stated the both motions represented parties of the same interest. Leigh and the other intervening party acknowledged they have some overlapping concerns.
“[W]hile Ms. Leigh certainly has strong interests in protecting the wild horses at issue here, her interests are not completely co-extensive with the broad interests of the present applicant intervenors, including all of their professional and economic interests in wild horses,” the motion states.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William G. Cobb agreed and allowed all applicants to intervene in the lawsuit.
Elko County Commission voted in February to contribute up to $10,000 to help NACO in funding the battle.