By Barbara Liston, Reuters
(Reuters) - Wild horse advocates in the U.S. West, represented by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal in Washington D.C., have scored a first win in four separate lawsuits filed recently by ranchers who want the federal government to thin the horse herd and reduce competition with their cattle for food and water on public land.
Livestock interests in Nevada, represented by Hoffman Test Guinan & Collier, had asked a federal judge to force the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, to remove thousands of horses that exceed the optimum population size as determined by the bureau to maintain a thriving natural ecological balance.
"Nothing in the act imposes a preference for horse or burro over livestock and wildlife," the ranchers argued in a 2013 complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Nevada dismissed the ranchers' lawsuit on March 13, agreeing with horse interests that she lacked jurisdiction.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, which intervened in the case, had argued that there was no agency action for the court to review.
"Plaintiffs' complaint amounts to a long laundry list of what the plaintiffs want, without identifying any statutory provisions requiring BLM to actually comply with these demands," according to the motion to dismiss.
The 2015 population of wild horses and burros was estimated by the bureau at 49,209 over 32 million acres of public land in 10 western states, according to the agency website.
The appropriate population level set by the bureau is 26,684, considering use of the land by other wildlife, permitted livestock and environmental factors, such as rainfall.
A lawyer for the livestock interests did not immediately return a call for comment.
Lawsuits making nearly identical claims are pending in Utah, Wyoming, and Pershing County, Nevada, according to William Eubanks, who represented defendant interveners American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign with the winning motion.
"Now that we have a federal judge who has ruled for us on this issue, this provides an additional bit of ammunition," said Eubanks, whose firm will make oral arguments in the Utah case on Wednesday.
Horse advocates argue that the wild horses act protects the animals as a national esthetic resource, while the Taylor Grazing Act allows ranchers to get permits to use public land but attaches no compensable rights.
The case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada is Nevada Association of Counties and Nevada Farm Bureau Federation v. U.S. Department of Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, Case No. 3:13-cv-00712.
For the plaintiffs: John Hoffman of Hoffman Test Guinan & Collier
For the respondents: William Eubanks, Katherine Meyer and Michelle Sinnott of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal and Julie Cavanaugh-Bill of Cavanaugh-Bill Law Offices