WYOMING – A legal dispute over whether foals and weanlings count toward the tally of horses designated for removal off public lands has led the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to halt its current gather in southwestern Wyoming.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal (Cheyenne) was set to rule on a lawsuit brought by American Wild Horse Campaign and wildlife photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl claiming that the BLM was not counting foals in the 1,560 horses targeted for removal. The preliminary Injunction motion temporarily halted the roundup which began September 26 and was to continue for four to six weeks.
The BLM agreed yesterday to stop the roundup. Wild horse advocates from AWHC claim the agency has probably already hit the 1,560 mark and was on track to gather about 300 extra horses.
The lawsuit charges the BLM with violating three federal laws by rounding up hundreds more horses than the 1,560 previously disclosed by excluding foals and weanlings from its official count of horses removed from the range. It also challenges the agency’s shipment of captured mustangs to two privately-owned feedlots that are not open to the public for viewing and adoption.
According to attorney William Eubanks, the attorney representing wild horse advocates, “We are pleased that BLM has agreed to limit its removal to 1,560 wild horses while the court decides the legality of the agency’s plan to round up hundreds more horses by pretending that foals don’t exist. Last year, the Tenth Circuit issued a strongly worded ruling last year telling BLM to comply with federal law when removing horses from these public lands. In some ways, BLM’s new approach is even worse for horses than the old approach that the Tenth Circuit invalidated; BLM is trying every technique possible to remove horses from the range in these HMAs except for following the laws Congress entrusted to the agency.”
It’s the third time plaintiffs have filed suit to challenge the BLM’s illegal actions in this area known as the Wyoming Checkerboard. Last year the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals handed the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign two precedent-setting legal victories related to the BLM’s actions in Wyoming. The area is hotly contested by private livestock growers like the Rock Springs Grazing Association who use the free range for grazing their animals.
“The BLM has found a new way to wipe out Wyoming’s wild horse herds by pretending that young horses don’t count,” said co-plaintiff Carol Walker, a wildlife photographer and director of field documentation for the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, a wild horse advocacy organization based in Texas. “The BLM’s stunning lack of concern for the welfare of the wild horses under its care and lack of transparency to the public of its treatment of these horses has never been more evident than during this roundup.”
Walker first learned of the BLM’s plan to remove close to 2,000 wild horses instead of the 1,560 previously disclosed as an observer onsite at the roundup, which began on September 26 and is expected to last 4-6 weeks.
“The BLM just asked Congress for permission to slaughter America’s mustangs over the opposition of 80% of Americans. Now the agency is rounding up hundreds more horses than authorized and sending them to private feedlots in Idaho and Utah where they will never be seen again,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign. “By filing this lawsuit, we’re again taking a stand against this agency’s blatant lack of transparency and total disregard for the will of the American people, the welfare of our wild horses, the federal laws that protect these national icons on our public lands.”