Lawsuit filed against Wyoming horse roundups on public lands
The wild horse battle is heating up again, as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sets the stage for a number of summer roundups in Wyoming, to comply with the 1971 enacted Wild Free- Roaming Horses and Burros Act (Wild Horse Act), which establishes equine numbers in designated areas.
In addition to the Wild Horse Act, the removal comes at the request of private land owners and also to comply with the 2013 Consent Decree for Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA).
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), The Cloud Foundation, and Return to Freedom filed a lawsuit in federal court in Wyoming to block BLM from rounding up the horses, an estimated 800, from the Adobe Town, Salt Wells and Divide Basin Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in the southwestern part of the state. In just over a week, over 32,000 citizens signed a petition protesting this pending roundup, according to AWHPC.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Wyoming by the public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein and Crystal, alleges that the BLM violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NE- PA), the Wild Horse Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, by authorizing the permanent removal of the horses from public and private lands within these three HMAs. BLM has authorized this large-scale roundup of wild horses from public land in Wyoming without conducting any environmental analysis, without engaging the public during the decisionmaking process, and without making certain statutorilyrequired determinations under the Wild Horse Act, according to the groups.
All three groups are claiming that the government is putting ranching above the protection of the horses.
“In proceeding with this roundup, the agency is blatantly placing ranching special interests over the interests of the American public and our federally-protected wild horses on public land,” said Suzanne Roy, AWHPC Director.
“Losing these wild horse families so that private livestock interests can continue to make money at taxpayer expense is truly disgusting,” states Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of the Cloud Foundation.
“If this roundup is allowed to proceed, it will be the beginning of the end for half of Wyoming’s remaining wild horses,” said Neda DeMayo, Founder and President of Return to Freedom. “This is just another complacent surrender of the BLM to pressure from livestock ranchers, a convenient tactic to proceed with wild horse eradication.”
In July, Wyoming’s BLM Rock Springs Field Office announced the plans to remove the horses from the area referred to as the checkerboard lands beginning approximately Aug. 20.
The three HMAs total approximately 2,427,220 acres, with 1,242,176 acres falling within the checkerboard. The majority of private land in the HMAs is in the checkerboard of alternating sections of public and private land and owned or controlled by the RSGA. Wild horses will remain in the non-checkerboard sections of the HMAs, according to BLM.
All removed wild horses will be examined by a veterinarian, dewormed, Cogginstested and given booster shots.
“Animals removed from the checkerboard will be available for adoption through the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program,” said Rock Springs Field Office Manager Kimberlee Foster. “Those not adopted will be cared for in longterm pastures, where they retain their ‘wild’ status and protection under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.”
AWHPC and The Cloud Foundation were interveners in the RSGA litigation that resulted in the consent decree, and have been fighting BLM’s implementation of the decree since that time. The groups are asking the court to stop the roundup, which is scheduled to begin on Aug. 20.
RSGA filed a lawsuit in 2011 asking the government to remove the horses from the area. The suit claimed that BLM has failed to keep horse numbers in the Rock Springs area in check. As a result, the animals have degraded rangelands. In 2013 the courts ruled in favor of the private landowners and allowed for the horses’ removal from checkerboard lands.
“This gather is a compliance action for the 2013 consent decree that was a result of that case,” Kimberlee Foster, Rock Springs BLM Field Manager shared with reporters. “We have to remove all horses from checkerboard lands. That is what we’re complying with.”
Gov. Matt Mead said Wyoming is considering legal action to force the BLM to control populations in the herd management areas based on the Wild Horse Act.
“We are right now looking at legal action to force them to get those numbers under control because when you have wild horses competing with livestock, when you have wild horses competing for range ground that impacts sage grouse, you have keen interest by the state of Wyoming,” Mead said. “So it’s appropriate they have that roundup. But we think they need to do more in individual herd management areas than they have been doing.”
After the horses are gathered, they will enter the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program, and those not suitable for adoption will join the already 47,272 in long-term holding pens across the U.S.
At a time when current off-range holding facilities are nearing capacity limits, the Bureau of Land Management is soliciting bids for new long-term pasture facilities that provide a free-roaming environment for wild horses. The BLM is also soliciting bids for multiple short-term facilities in various states that border or are east of the Mississippi River.
Under the authority of the Wild Horse Act as amended, the BLM manages and protects wild horses and burros while working to ensure that population levels are in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. The BLM removes animals from the range to control the size of herds, which have virtually no predators and can double in population every four years. The BLM plans to remove 2,400 animals from the range in Fiscal Year 2014, down from 4,176 in FY 2013. The BLM is also using population growth-suppression (PGS) measures, and is supporting research to improve existing and develop new PGS tools.
The current free-roaming population of BLM-managed wild horses and burros is estimated to be 49,209, as of March 1, 2014, which exceeds by more than 22,500 the number determined by the BLM to be the appropriate management level. Off the range, as of June 2014, there were more than 47,000 wild horses and burros cared for in either short-term corrals or long-term pastures. All these animals, whether on or off the range, are protected by the BLM under the 1971 law.
The solicitations involving long-term facilities are for one or more pasture facilities, each accommodating 100 to 5,000 wild horses. Each pasture facility must be able to provide humane care for a one-year period, with a renewal option under BLM contract for a four-year or nine-year period. The solicitations are open until Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, 2014.
The BLM is also soliciting bids for multiple short-term facilities accommodating a minimum of 150 wild horses and/or burros in a safe and humane condition. Each short-term facility, which must be close to and readily accessible from a major U.S. interstate or highway, must be able to provide humane care for a one-year period, with a renewal option under BLM contract for four oneyear extensions. The animals will remain in a short-term holding facility until they are adopted or can be transported to a long-term pasture. The solicitation is open until Aug. 29, 2014.
The states (which border or are east of the Mississippi River) under consideration for this short-term holding solicitation are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The BLM’s bidding requirements are posted at: http://www.fedconnect.net. To obtain the solicitation: (1) click on “Search Public Opportunities”; (2) under Search Criteria, select “Reference Number”; (3) put in the solicitation number (L14PS00793); and (4) click “Search” and the solicitation information will appear. The solicitation form describes what to submit and where to send it. Applicants must be registered at http://www.sam. gov/ to be considered for a contract award.
BLM is implementing recommendations made by a June 2013 report of the National Academy of Sciences.
For instance, the BLM is taking actions to increase the use of population growth-suppression measures on overpopulated herds roaming western public rangelands and implementing methods developed by the U.S. Geological Survey for more accurate population estimates. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor