By Mike Heuer, Courthouse News Service
RENO, Nev. (CN) - A federal judge dismissed with prejudice a complaint that sought to make the federal government immediately begin removing thousands of wild horses and burros in Nevada.
Nevada hosts half of the nation's wild horses and burros, according to the Bureau of Land Management: 23,347 of our 40,815 wild horses, and 1,688 of the 8,394 wild burros.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du on Thursday dismissed with prejudice a complaint filed by the Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation in December 2013.
Nevada Bighorn Unlimited and Crawford Cattle joined as additional plaintiffs in an amended complaint in June 2014.
They Department of Interior and its Secretary Sally Jewell, and the Bureau of Land Management and three of its top officials.
The plaintiffs claimed the federal agencies have mismanaged the population of wild horses and burros in Nevada.
Nevada has far and away more wild horses than any other state: California is second with 4,086. Only Arizona, with 6,008 wild burros and California with 1,922 have more burros, according to the BLM web page, last updated on March 3.
The ranchers and Nevada counties accused the agencies of violating the Wild Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.
"Defendants' failures to properly follow the law have gravely harmed, and will continue to gravely injure the very animals that the act was established to protect," the complaint stated.
They claimed that "free-roaming horse and burro herds in Nevada are frequently observed to be in malnourished condition, with the ribs and skeletal features of individual animals woefully in view and other signs of ill-health readily observable."
They also said the overpopulation "likewise damaged the rangelands in Nevada" as well as the "economic and associational interests" of their respective members and the "plant and animal wildlife in the affected areas of protection."
The groups claimed the BLM has been "grossly undercounting horses" and wild burros in Nevada and does not rigorously monitor herd sizes and the conditions.
In Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General found that in 1990 the herds of wild horses and burros in Nevada already exceeded appropriate management levels, according to the lawsuit.
The BLM assesses forage to determine the appropriate management level of wild horses and burros. It says the optimum number living on 14.7 million acres in Nevada is 12,700, and that herds grow by about 20 percent each year if left unchecked.
The plaintiffs asked the court to order the BLM to immediately conduct "gathers of all excess animals on public lands managed" by BLM, until the herds are within the appropriate management limits.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign intervened as defendants in February 2014 and in June filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice .