Suit tries to block roundup of nearly 10,000 mustangs

By Scott Sonner

Associated Press

RENO — Animal rights activists are suing to block what they say is an unprecedented federal plan to capture thousands of wild horses over 10 years in Nevada without the legally required environmental reviews intended to protect the mustangs and U.S. rangeland.

Friends of Animals accuse the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violating the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws by approving the removal of nearly 10,000 mustangs across an area near the Nevada-Utah line almost twice as big as the state of Delaware.

The “roundup decision is unprecedented in size and scope,” according to the suit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Reno.

It would allow BLM to “continually roundup, remove, drug and castrate wild horses for 10 years after the initial roundup,” the suit said.

The agency has used fertility control in isolated cases before but has not previously adopted castration as a way to help keep the size of the herds in check.

Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral said that in addition to placing male horses at risk of hemorrhaging and infection, those that survive castration “will be robbed of their natural behaviors, putting them at a disadvantage on the range in terms of survival.”

“This is the definition of animal cruelty,” Feral said. “These are wild animals, not domesticated dogs and cats.”

Michael Harris, director of the group’s Wildlife Law Program in Colorado, said the 10-year Nevada plan would allow BLM to roundup mustangs without public notice or comment, and without site-specific analysis of each individual gather proposed in seven different herd management areas with an estimated 9,525 horses across 4,900 square miles (12,690 sq. kilometers) of federal rangeland southeast of Elko between U.S. Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50.

Wild horses far exceed U.S. government population goals, and officials say the free-roaming horses that number about 60,000 in 10 western states can face starvation. Captured horses are offered for adoption, but 46,000 are being held at government corrals and pastures costing taxpayers $50 million annually.

Harris said the roundups are based on outdated population targets adopted in management plans that haven’t been updated in a decade, and in one case not for 25 years. The suit points to a 2013 study by the National Science Academy’s National Research Council, which found little scientific basis for establishing what BLM considers to be appropriate, ecologically based caps.

BLM spokesman Greg Deimel said Monday agency officials cannot comment on pending litigation.

Jill Silvey, district manager for the BLM in Elko, wrote in the formal decision she signed in December authorizing the gathers that they are needed to protect the rangeland from overgrazing in an area that has 11 times more mustangs than the land can sustain.

“Native vegetative communities in parts of the complexes have already crossed critical ecological thresholds that could prevent or significantly slow their recovery,” she said. “This resource degradation and potential for irreversible ecological damage will continue without immediate action to remove excess wild horses and to bring the wild horse population back to (appropriate management levels.)”

Jennifer Best, Friends of Animals’ assistant legal director, said BLM recently withdrew a 5-year-plan in Colorado after the group sued to block a similar strategy involving fertility control and castration.

“It’s particularly concerning because it’s just such a huge area,” she said. “We did not see that in previous administrations.”

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  1. Dwayne Burgess says:

    There can be no doubt the wild horse arguments i the state (and supporng states) is sensitive and becoming more sensitive ever year. But, it needs a realistic view and understanding with the negative effects of the growing number of wild horses and their effect on the environment and the people as the driving force i all decision making.
    The death of a high patrolman killed when he hit some wild horses n the road, i sonly one o f the deaths awe hear about throughout the year contributed to wild horses. As our population grows adn housing developments spread the quality of life for the families there is being challenged; the wild horses enter the housing areas, eat thegreas, the trees, the flowers adn make messes on the yards and streets.
    But it never seems to be a part of horse supporters to consider these things.
    It would seem to me, that property damage, serious personal injury and deaths on our highways from ANY KNOWN contributing cause, would be a prime driver in controls to make our highways and our homes safe!
    These hazards are well known; there has to be some level of responsibility in controlling them; Those who fail to accept the problems and the hazards should face the liabilities associated with the free roaming, pasturing and injuries contributed to horses.
    We should all ask how we will accept the NEXt Death or serous injury to someone we know, family or friend or neighbor, due to the free roaming efforts of those who put the welfare of the wild horses above the safety and welfare of the people! We should ask – if the “right thing” is not done – who should be held liable? We know the problem, we know the cause and we know the best resolution- if we are not going to do the right thing – – then!

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