CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The U.S. government has agreed to halt a Wyoming wild horse roundup amid a legal dispute over whether it should count foals toward the roundup quota.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and roundup opponents agreed in a court filing Tuesday the roundup would stop at 1,560 horses of all ages, a number the BLM was set to reach Wednesday. Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal in Cheyenne was set to rule within days whether to allow the roundup to resume while a lawsuit filed by the opponents moves ahead.
The roundup began Sept. 23 and originally was expected to take four to six weeks. The Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and two photographers sued Friday, claiming the BLM was deviating from past practice by not counting captured foals toward the roundup's 1,560-horse limit.
The counting technique put the BLM on a track to exceed the limit set through environmental analysis by more than 300 horses, the group and photographers alleged.
The issue came to light not through the BLM's public decision-making process but only when government officials told horse advocates at the roundup site how they were counting the horses, the lawsuit claimed.
Not counting foals deviates from past BLM practice, said William Eubanks, an attorney for the wild horse advocates.
"If they had just stuck to the number of horses they had determined to be excess, there would be no lawsuit. We would have left this alone. But they decided to try to push it," Eubanks said Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the BLM's Wyoming State Office, Kristen Lenhardt, declined comment citing agency policy not to comment on pending litigation.
The BLM uses helicopters and wranglers on horseback to round up wild horses and keep them from overpopulating rangelands. Some rounded-up horses are adopted by the public. Others go to sanctuaries.
The lawsuit is the latest of many over the years seeking to affect the BLM's wild horse policies under the Wild Free-Ranging Horses and Burros Act, a 1971 law requiring the government to maintain populations of wild horses and burros on the West's open ranges.
Horse advocates urge a conservative approach to roundups but ranchers for decades have urged the BLM to do more to keep horse numbers down. The horses compete with cattle for forage and water, especially in the arid high desert of southwestern Wyoming where the roundup was taking place.