Advocates can’t stop the controversial round-up of more than 2,000 wild horses and 200 wild burros along the California-Nevada border because it has already happened, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The federal appeals court in San Francisco on Monday rejected as moot a year-old motion for a restraining order and injunction to halt the round-up in the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area.
The nonprofits In Defense of Animals and Dreamcatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary have been battling the Bureau of Land Management since 2009 to halt the round-up, which they claim violates the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The agency has maintained that the round-up is necessary to keep the herds sustainable.
A lower court denied the groups’ motion in August 2010, with the round-up set to begin within days. A motions panel of the 9th Circuit rejected an emergency move for injunctive relief a few days later, and the round-up went forward, according to the ruling.
While finding that the plaintiffs’ motion “raises serious legal questions concerning whether the large-scale removal of horses conflicts with the Wild Horses Act and whether an Environmental Impact Statement is required before any action can be implemented,” the panel dismissed it as moot. The motion sought to enjoin only the “effects of implementing the initial phase” of the round-up and to “preserve the status quo.” Neither is possible now, the panel ruled.
“The horses are currently offsite and the remainder of the plan is apparently going forward,” the panel found, promising that “any further appeals in the underlying action shall be expedited and calendared before this panel.”
Writing in dissent, Judge Johnnie Rawlinson said the court could have offered relief by ordering return of the horses to the range.
“It is undisputed that the BLM rounded up all the horses on the range and then decided which horses should be released back into the Twin Peaks area and which should be transported to holding areas,” he wrote. “This would be a different case if the horses who were rounded up had all been dispersed. But that is not what happened. The horses that were rounded up are currently being kept in various holding areas throughout the southwestern United States. As easily as the horses were transported out of their natural habitat, they can be returned.
In this circumstance, relief is available and the request for injunctive relief is not moot.”