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Greens Fight Sterilization of Wild Horses

BOISE (CN) - Animal lovers sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to try to stop it from sterilizing a herd of wild horses in southwestern Idaho.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and others sued the BLM in Federal Court on Monday on substantive and procedural grounds, claiming its plan would violate the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The groups challenge the BLM's Jarbidge Resource Management plan for the 95,000-acre Saylor Creek Herd Management Area (HMA).

The BLM wants to sterilize "all wild horses in the Saylor Creek HMA," at the behest of ranchers whose cattle graze in the area, according to the lawsuit.

"Despite the fact that the HMA is by definition 'established for the maintenance of wild horse and burro herds ... the BLM favors livestock grazing over wild horses," according to the 40-page complaint. "For example, 126 miles of permanent fences divided the HMA's nearly 160 square miles into 10 cattle pastures."

The groups say they fear the plan will set a precedent and fails to analyze the effects sterilization will have on other populations.

"The BLM violated NEPA by failing to adequately analyze the environmental consequences of sterilizing an entire herd of wild free-roaming horses insofar as that drastic action will adversely affect individual wild horses and the herd as a whole, as well as by failing to consider reasonable alternatives such as less invasive means to manage wild horse population growth," the complaint states.

The groups say the BLM also failed to fulfill its statutory obligation to protect the herd under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

"The act provides that the Secretary of the Interior 'shall manage wild free-roaming horses and burros as components of the public lands ... in a manner that is designated to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands," according to the complaint. "The WHA's implementing regulations require that '[w]ild horses and burros shall be managed as self-sustaining populations of healthy animals in balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat.

"The regulations further require that '[m]anagement activities affecting wild horses and burros shall be undertaken with the goal of maintaining free-roaming behavior."

Free roaming wild horses have long been a source of controversy in the West. Some ranchers say the horse populations have exploded and are eating all the grass. Environmentalists call those claims overblown, and say wild horses are typically confined to small areas where they are outnumbered by cattle and then blamed for the environmental damage caused by grazing.

Joining the California-based American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign as plaintiffs are the Cloud Foundation, of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Return to Freedom, of California.

The Cloud Foundation's executive director Ginger Kathrens was out of the office on Tuesday and not available for comment.

The groups' attorney William Lawton, with Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks in Washington, D.C., was not able to comment Tuesday afternoon due to time constraints.

The plaintiffs want the court to vacate and enjoin the sterilization plan and the BLM's Record of Decision and Environmental Impact Statement, "remanding those decisions to the agency for further consideration" consistent with the NEPA and the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

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