Roundup of Wild Horses Must Stop, Court Rules


     (CN) - The 9th Circuit has temporarily halted the round-up of more than 2,000 wild horses from lands in eastern Nevada while it considers an advocacy group's motion to permanently stop the culling project.
     The order came late Friday after U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben in Nevada denied the Cloud Foundation's request for an injunction to stop the round-up, which was supposed to begin on Saturday
     The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed to gather some 2,198 wild horses from eastern Nevada's "Triple B Complex," which includes the Triple B, Antelope Valley, and Maverick-Medicine Herd Management Areas (HMA), as well as the Cherry Springs Wild Horse Territory. The agency plans to re-release about 472 horses back into the areas, after selecting horses to skew the sex ratio to include more males, and treating female horses with contraceptives that will prevent pregnancy for two years, according to court filings.
     The horses not re-released will be put up for adoption or sale, and those not sold or adopted will be sent to "long-term holding facilities in the mid-western or eastern part of the country where they would remain."
     The BLM maintains that the culling is needed for the land's health, which is being damaged by overgrazing. The Cloud Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wild horses, claims that the agency improperly determined that there were too many horses in the areas, and that it has not managed the land according to federal law, among other things.
McKibben sided with the BLM, denying the group's request for an injunction and finding that it was not likely to succeed in court.
     "The declarations cited by defendants in their opposition brief clearly demonstrate that at the time of BLM's decision, officials were aware of a significant horse overpopulation and observed firsthand its effects on the range," the judge wrote. "The BLM has the authority to remove excess horses to the degree and in the manner contemplated in this action. Plaintiffs have failed to show either a likelihood of success on, or serious questions going to, the merits of this claim."
McKibben added that a delay in the round-up is likely to hurt the BLM -- and the horses and the land -- more than it would the Cloud Foundation.
      "Most of plaintiffs' assertions of hardship relate to the loss of relationships with horses and the difficulty in observing horses on the range," he wrote. "While the historical data suggest a small percentage of wild horses will perish during the round-up, it is just as likely that other horses will die from lack of food and/or water if this population continues to grow as it has in the past. The [BLM] clearly establishes that if no action is taken, the wild horse population will adversely impact riparian resources within and outside of the HMAs, native plant health would continue to deteriorate, plants would be lost, and soil erosion would increase. Wild horses will continue to overconsume herbaceous vegetative cover and cause trampling damage to riparian areas."
     The federal appeals court in San Francisco reversed McKibbon, however, if only temporarily.
     "To allow for further consideration on the merits of the emergency motion, the court grants temporary injunctive relief," the court ruled. "Appellees are enjoined from the round-up of wild horses in the HMAs and Triple B Complex areas until further order of the court."
     The opening brief in the case is due on Aug. 12.