A federal appeals court yesterday denied a bid by wild horse advocates to block the Bureau of Land Management's removal of roughly 800 wild horses from a checkerboard of public and private rangelands in southwest Wyoming in a win for ranchers and the state government.
The decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest in a long-running battle between ranchers and mustang advocates over how to contain hundreds of wild horses that have strayed onto private lands owned by the Rock Springs Grazing Association.
The 2-million-acre checkerboard was created in 1862 when Congress awarded the Union Pacific Railroad Co. odd-numbered tracts of public lands along a railbed right of way as the company completed a transcontinental railroad. Much of the private lands are now owned by the grazing association.
BLM plans to begin rounding up horses Sunday or Monday from checkerboard lands within the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek herd management areas, as required under a March 2013 settlement it signed with the grazing association.
Under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, BLM must remove wild horses that stray onto private lands.
Horses will be removed from the roughly 1.2 million acres of the herd management areas that fall within the checkerboard, out of total HMA areas of about 2.4 million acres. Removed horses will be offered for adoption or held in long-term pastures, said BLM's Rock Springs Field Office Manager Kimberlee Foster.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) yesterday cheered the court's ruling, arguing that removing horses would protect ranchers and the native elk, deer and pronghorn that roam alongside the horses. [Click Here to read Governor Mead's Press Release]
"Wyoming is not against wild horses on public lands, but they must be managed appropriately," Mead said in a statement.
But wild horse advocates claimed BLM has flouted its legal mandate to protect wild mustangs. Plaintiffs trying to block the roundup included the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), the Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, and wild horse photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl.
"This ruling allows BLM to blatantly violate multiple federal laws and essentially turns over our public lands to private livestock interests," said Suzanne Roy, director of AWHPC. "It sets a terrible precedent not only for wild horses but also for the responsible management of our public lands by elevating commercial livestock interests over the public interest and federal law."
While both the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming and the 10th Circuit denied emergency motions to stop the roundup, the case will still proceed to the merits after the operation, the groups said. A key issue in the case was what section of the wild horse act BLM should apply in pursuing the roundup.
BLM claimed that Section 4 requires the agency to swiftly remove horses that stray onto private lands when requested by a landowner. BLM authorized the removal under a categorical exclusion, bypassing a lengthier National Environmental Policy Act review. But wild horse advocates say BLM should have followed Section 3 of the act, which allows horses to be removed in order to maintain "a thriving natural ecological balance" with other wildlife. They also argued BLM needed to perform a full NEPA review.
But the district court noted that without fences, it is all but impossible for BLM to keep horses from wandering onto private lands in the checkerboard without intensive management. "All parties agree that the ownership pattern of the checkerboard makes it impossible to manage either the public lands or the private lands independently of the other," the court said this summer.
The 1971 law requires BLM to both protect wild horses and contain them to where they roamed in 1971. But that mandate has proved challenging as wild horse herds can double in size every four years, and removing them has been both a fiscal and political burden for BLM.
For more than three decades, the Rock Springs Grazing Association had agreed to allow up to 500 wild horses to roam free among herds of cattle it grazes on the checkerboard. But as numbers swelled into the thousands, the horses degraded the rangelands and left less forage and water for cattle and big game.
The grazing association, the nation's largest, sued BLM in July 2011, claiming the agency had failed to hold up its end of the agreement.
Source: Greenwire, by Phil Taylor
Federal land managers are under fire from animal welfare activists for seeking extra holding space for wild horses removed from western rangelands.
With current facilities nearing capacity, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is accepting bids until Aug. 29 from contractors interested in either operating short-term corrals in 31 states in the Midwest and East or long-term pastures.
After removing horses from the range, the bureau places them in short-term facilities until they're either adopted or shipped to pastures in the Midwest where they spend the rest of their lives.
The agency routinely thins what it calls overpopulated herds on public land. BLM officials, in a statement Thursday, said they plan to open "multiple" short-term corrals that can handle at least 150 horses each in various states along and east of the Mississippi River. They also seek one or more long-term pastures that can accommodate from 100 to 5,000 mustangs each.
The bureau has not yet awarded contracts for bids it received earlier this year from contractors interested in running short-term corrals in 17 states in the West and Midwest.
Bureau spokesman Tom Gorey said the total number of new holding facilities and their cost would depend on the number and quality of bids submitted. About two-thirds of the agency's budget covers holding costs.
"We want to get out of the holding business, but at the moment that's not possible," Gorey told The Associated Press. "The bottom line is we have to make sure we have enough off-range holding for horses that are removed."
Budget constraints are prompting the bureau to remove just 2,400 wild horses and burros from the range during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, down from 4,176 in 2013 and 8,255 in 2012. The vast majority of animals targeted for removal are horses.
But horse advocates criticized the agency's plans for more holding space, saying it continues to "stockpile" horses at a growing cost to taxpayers with about as many mustangs now living in holding facilities as on the range.
"The BLM continues to refuse to reform its broken wild horse program," said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. "The agency is intent on sticking American taxpayers with the bill for rounding up and warehousing captured mustangs instead of listening to the scientists and the American public, and humanely managing wild horses and burros on the range."
Gorey said activists' demands to halt the removal of horses from the range are unrealistic because herds grow at an average rate of 20 percent a year and can double in size every four years.
According to the latest figures provided by the BLM, a total of 49,209 horses and burros freely roamed 10 Western states as of March 1, the vast majority of them mustangs. That estimate exceeds by more than 22,500 the number the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses.
Off the range, there were 47,272 wild horses and burros in short-term corrals and long-term pastures as of July 30, the agency said.
Source: The Associated Press, by Martin Griffith
Click Here for BLM's Wild Horse and Burro FY14 Round-Up Schedule
Despite opposition from wild-horse groups, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced Monday a decision to gather and remove excess horses in the Bible Spring Complex of southwestern Utah.
The Cedar City Field Office of the BLM signed the decision authorizing the gathering of about 140 animals from the Blawn Wash Herd Management in July.
That’s just the beginning of management tactics approved to reduce the number of wild horses, now estimated at 755, down to the number that the agency deems appropriate — about 100 horses. The "Bible Spring Complex Gather, Removal and Fertility Treatment Plan" calls for up to four round-ups over a six-to-10-year period. It also authorizes the use of fertility control.
But Deniz Bolbol, communications director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said the BLM shouldn’t be removing any horses.
"It’s unfortunate. More than 35,000 Americans submitted comments opposing this roundup, but the BLM is plowing ahead to appease a handful of ranchers so they can keep having their below-market grazing on our public lands," Bolbol said. "The problem is not excess horses — it’s excess cows."
The group says the BLM horse count is inaccurate and contends the agency is caving to "bullying" by ranchers.
A battle between the counties and the BLM started this spring as ranchers stated there were too many animals sharing a rangeland threatened by drought. The counties threatened to perform a roundup of their own if the BLM did not reduce the numbers of wild horses.
A lawsuit has been filed against the BLM by ranchers demanding wild horses be kept within established limits.
Meanwhile, wild horse advocates are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list wild horses as threatened or endangered, which would trigger protections for herds in 10 Western states.
The Bible Spring Complex comprises four herd management areas — Bible Spring, Blawn Wash, Tilly Creek and Four Mile — located in western Iron and Beaver counties, approximately 30 miles west of Minersville.
Source: The Salt Lake Tribune by Brett Prettyman
The four Herd Management Areas that make up the Bible Spring Complex—Bible Spring, Blawn Wash, Tilly Creek and Four Mile—are located in western Iron and Beaver counties, approximately 30 miles west of Minersville, Utah, in the Wah Wah and Indian Peak mountain ranges.
The Bible Spring Complex is comprised of approximately 222,929 acres of public, private and state lands. The gather plan outlines future management of wild horses in the Bible Spring Complex, beginning with gather and removal of approximately 140 animals from the Blawn Wash Herd Management Area in July 2014.
The environmental assessment and decision documents are posted on the BLM-Utah website at: http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/prog/wild_horse_and_burro.html.
For additional gather-specific information, please contact Chad Hunter at (435) 865-3088.