Laramie, Wyoming (March 3, 2015) Today U.S. District Court of Wyoming Chief Judge Nancy D. Freudenthal issued an order stating that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it conducted a massive “Checkerboard Roundup” last fall, during which 1,263 wild horses were permanently removed from their homes on the range in southwestern Wyoming. The Court remanded the NEPA violation back to the BLM to “remedy the deficiencies” while at the same time denied Plaintiffs’ claims that the BLM, in the Wyoming roundup, violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).
In this case, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom and photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl contended that the BLM violated federal law by proceeding with the roundup in the absence of any environmental analysis and public participation, and by reducing the populations in the Adobe Town, Salt Wells and Divide Basin Herd Management Areas below established “Appropriate” Management Levels.
The massive roundup removed all of the wild horses from the private and public Checkerboard lands within the Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, and Great Divide Basin HMAs. BLM authorized this drastic management action without analyzing any of the environmental consequences of a wild horse roundup of this magnitude, or reasonable alternatives to this action, as required by NEPA.
“We are disappointed that the court upheld BLM’s countertextural interpretation of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act which allows the agency to disregard its own established wild horse minimum population levels,” said William Eubanks of the public interest environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal. “However, the court vindicated our concerns with BLM’s complete failure to analyze the impacts of this action on wild horses and the natural environment, as well as the agency’s failure to engage the public before pressing forward with this ill-advised decision.”
The ruling is the latest in the ongoing legal battle about the future of wild horses in the Wyoming Checkerboard, a more than 2 million acre swath of public and private land where more than half of the state’s remaining wild horse herds reside. In 2013, the BLM entered into a consent decree with the Rock Springs Grazing Association agreeing to remove all the wild horses from RSGA’s private lands on the Checkerboard and to consider, through the appropriate public process, zeroing out the wild horse populations in this area. These actions will essentially turn the public lands over to ranchers who graze livestock on these lands at taxpayer-subsidized rates.
The plaintiffs are represented by William Eubanks, partner at the Washington, DC-based public interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal. The State of Wyoming and the Rock Springs Grazing Association have been granted intervenor status in the case. For more information on the lawsuit, click here.