Today: Federal judges to hear arguments against wild horse roundups

DenverCO (September 19, 2016  – Arguments on two cases focused on the inhumane and costly rounding up of wild horses will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver today, Monday, Sept. 19, at 9 a.m. (Courtroom 1 at 1823 Stout Street).  

The first hearing regards the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s 2014 removal of 1,263 federally protected horses from the Wyoming Checkerboard area, which includes many acres of public lands allocated for wild horse management in the Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek and Divide Basin Herd Management Areas near Rock Springs.

Co-plaintiffs The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), The Cloud FoundationReturn to Freedom, and photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl argue that the roundup leaves the population of all three areas far below the minimum number established and mandated under the BLM’s Resource Management Plans that guide land use policy for the public lands in the area.

In March 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to conduct an analysis of the impacts of the roundup on the natural environment and by failing to consider alternatives to the proposed action.

The judge also ruled, however, that the BLM could use a request by a landowner for removal of wild horses from private lands (Section 4 of the Wild Horse Act) to remove wild horses from adjoining public lands. The BLM has used this as an excuse to eliminate wild horses from all Checkerboard lands, both private and public. The plaintiffs are appealing this ruling on the basis of Section 3 of the Wild Horse Act, which requires BLM to make a formal determination that “excess” wild horses are present on BLM landsand that these horses must be removed in order to maintain a “thriving natural ecological balance.” The BLM did not make any such “excess” determination for the Checkerboard roundup.

The second hearing regards a State of Wyoming lawsuit against BLM demanding that the agency remove hundreds of horses from federal land within the state. AWHPC and others filed a motion to intervene in the case in an effort to stop the BLM from carrying out any of the suggested roundups. In 2015, the federal district court ruled in favor of BLM and AWHPC by dismissing Wyoming’s lawsuit for failing to state a viable legal claim, which Wyoming has since appealed.

“Fewer than 2,500 remain on the range in Wyoming and we can’t count on the federal government to defend them,” said Suzanne Roy, AWHPC Executive Director. “This is part of a pattern where rancher and local governments file lawsuits against the BLM and then, in many instances, the agency uses the lawsuits as an excuse to round up and remove federally protected horses from public lands.”

“In the case of the Wyoming Checkerboard, the federal government actually invited ranchers to sue as a way to secure more funding for roundups,” Roy said.

According to the groups, wild horses are being scapegoated in Wyoming for environmental impacts that are caused by the vastly larger numbers of cattle and sheep allowed to graze on public lands.

Nationwide, wild horses inhabit just 17 percent of BLM rangelands and are outnumbered on these lands 38 to 1 by livestock.

Why roundups don’t work

According to public opinion polls, three out of four Americans favor preserving wild horses and burros on federal land.

Even so, BLM continues to carry out roundups and removals throughout the West. In fact, the agency spends 70 percent of its annual $80 million budget to round up, remove and stockpile wild horses.

These roundups, in which wild horses are chased down with helicopters, subject animals to trauma, injury and death, the groups said.

In the last seven years alone, BLM has removed more than 40,000 wild horses from public lands. The agency now stockpiles 45,000 wild horses and burros in captivity, while approximately 60,000 remain free on the range.

The National Academy of Sciences, in a 2013 report, stressed that the BLM’s system of rounding up and removing horses from the range merely exacerbates population growth by “facilitating high rates of population growth on the range.”

The AWHPC advocates for a fair and scientific process to to determine appropriate levels of wild horses on public land, more equitable allocations of resources to wild horses and burros on the small amount of BLM land designated as their habitat, and the use, as warranted, of humane fertility control vaccine as a way to manage population levels on the range.

AWHPC and its partners will be represented at both hearings by Bill Eubanks of the public interest environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP.

For more information on this case, please click here