Late last Friday, a federal court handed a coalition of wild horse advocates another legal victory by finding the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Idaho had violated several federal laws in its plan to convert the wild free roaming horse population in the Saylor Creek Herd Management Area (HMA) in Idaho into a non-reproducing herd by surgically or chemically sterilizing every wild horse living there.
It was the second legal win for the advocates last week. Also Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned a U.S. Forest Service decision to shrink the size of the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory in California by 23,000 acres.
In its ruling on a lawsuit filed by the American Wild Horse Campaign, Return to Freedom, The Cloud Foundation and private citizen Virginia Hudson, the U.S. District Court in Idaho agreed with virtually all of the plaintiffs’ legal claims, finding that the BLM decision—made as part of the agency’s revision to the Jarbidge Resource Management Plan—was arbitrary and capricious and violated the Wild Free Roaming Horses Act, the National Environmental Protection Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
“This excellent and comprehensive ruling from the District of Idaho highlights the importance of BLM’s duty to seriously consider how its decisions impact the wild horses that it has a clear statutory duty to protect,” said Nick Lawton of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Eubanks, the public interest law firm that is representing the advocates.
“The BLM’s poorly considered decision to sterilize an entire herd of wild horses in the Saylor Creek Herd Management Area would have destroyed the herd’s natural, wild, and free-roaming behaviors, as well as devastating the herd’s social organization and long-term viability.
We are gratified that the court recognized the BLM’s failure to consider these important issues. This ruling makes clear that BLM cannot lightly decide to sterilize wild horses, but must seriously reconsider such an action in light of the fundamental and harmful effects that sterilization will have on these federally protected animals.”
Among the court’s significant findings:
- The BLM has a legal mandate to protect horses’ wild free-roaming behaviors and manage wild horses in self-sustaining herds.
- Sterilizing wild horses impacts the herd’s social structure, the wild horses’ behavior, and the public’s interest in preserving and observing those natural wild horse instincts and behaviors.
- The BLM must consider the behavioral and social impacts of sterilization but failed entirely to do so in its RMP revision process.
- The BLM failed to consider the findings of a 2013 National Academy of Sciences report, “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward.” Among the key findings of that report: BLM management practices are facilitating high population growth rates on the range; the agency’s “Appropriate” Management Levels are not transparent on based on science; fertility control is a viable management tool, and surgical sterilization methods are associated with significant health risks and behavioral impacts.
The Saylor Creek HMA is a nearly 100,000-acre public lands area located in southern Idaho, 15 miles south of Glenn’s Ferry.
The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is a national wild horse advocacy organization whose grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.
Return to Freedom (RTF), is a national non-profit dedicated to wild horse preservation through sanctuary, education and conservation, and also operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, CA.
The Cloud Foundation (TCF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of wild horses and burros on our Western public lands with a focus on protecting Cloud’s herd in the Pryor Mountains of Montana. Cloud is the subject of Foundation founder Ginger Kathrens’ groundbreaking PBS/Nature documentaries.
Meyer, Glitzenstein & Eubanks is the nation’s leading public interest law firm with offices in Washington, DC and Ft. Collins, Colorado.