Wild horse advocates and conservationists are suing to block the Bureau of Land Management from rounding up and removing all horses from a vast swath of public land in Lincoln County.
In April, the BLM finalized a 10-year plan to “zero out” all herds within 40 miles of the Lincoln County town of Caliente, based on a decade-old analysis showing too little water and forage to sustain healthy wild horses across the almost 912,000-acre area.
That decision triggered a federal lawsuit last week from the conservation group Western Watersheds Project and horse groups The Cloud Foundation and the American Wild Horse Campaign. They accuse the BLM of violating the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and other federal laws.
“We are directly challenging the BLM’s decision to eradicate all federally protected wild horses from the public lands within the Caliente Complex while continuing to authorize thousands of privately owned cattle to graze the same area,” Bill Eubanks, an attorney representing the groups, said in a written statement.
BLM’s Caliente Complex stretches from the town of Panaca south to the Clark County line and includes nine separate herd areas, none of which can support wild horses on a long-term basis, according to the agency’s 2008 resource management plan for the land.
Bureau officials estimate there are 1,744 wild horses living within the complex, not including this year’s crop of foals.
Over the next 10 years, the agency said it wants to gather and remove all of the horses in and around the boundaries of the complex “to improve watershed health and make significant progress towards achieving (recommended) range health standards.”
But the groups suing the BLM said the real threat to the range comes from the 4,500 cows and sheep that also use the complex.
“We have a real and widespread problem with overgrazing on western public lands, and in almost every case the cause is domestic livestock, not wild horses, or mule deer or elk,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director of the Western Watersheds Project.
“It’s time for the BLM to stop prioritizing ranching special interests and start honoring the wishes of Americans to ensure that our iconic mustangs are protected and humanely managed on our public lands,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.
Chris Hanefeld, spokesman for the BLM’s Ely District office, said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
The BLM also plans to remove all wild horses from the Seaman and White River herd areas to the west of the Caliente Complex.
Those portions of Lincoln and Nye counties are currently home to about 365 horses scattered across 475,100 acres, including parts of Basin and Range National Monument.
The BLM said horses removed from the targeted areas will be adopted out, sold or kept for the rest of their lives in off-range pastures.
Hanefeld said no start date has been set for the roundups in eastern Nevada.