Federal court sanctions gov't plans to eliminate wild free-roaming horses from Wyoming checkerboard

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Wild horse advocates vow to continue fight against plan to reduce Wyoming's wild free-roaming horse population by 46%

Cheyenne, WY ( April 4, 2013) – A federal court in Wyoming has approved a consent decree between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) that will wipe out wild free-roaming horses from the Wyoming Checkerboard, a two-million acre swath of public and private land in the southern part of the state.

 The Consent Decree was vigorously opposed by the American Wild Horse Preservation CampaignThe Cloud Foundation and the International Society for the Preservation of Mustangs and Burros, which were granted intervenor status in the case. The intervenors were represented by the public interest law firm Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal.

“We are appalled that the court has put  a seal of approval on the BLM’s plan to destroy some of Wyoming’s last remaining and most popular wild horse herds,” said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC). “The court’s decision to prioritize the interests of the livestock industry over protection of wild horses is blatantly wrong from a legal perspective. We vow to fight with all legal means available the BLM’s unlawful plans to wipe out wild horses from the Wyoming checkerboard.”

“As a party to the original agreement that protected wild horses in this critical habitat area, we are devastated by this decision, which will have lasting impacts on wild horses in Wyoming,” said Karen Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB). “This continues the BLM’s trend of managing our wild horses to extinction.”

Sussman noted that since the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed in 1971, the BLM has eliminated wild horses from over 20 million acres of designated habitat and reduced the number of Herd Management Areas from 303 to 179 today.

“This is a sad day for wild horses in Wyoming, a state that ironically promotes its mustangs in the state’s ‘Roam Free’ tourism ads,” said Ginger Kathrens, director of The Cloud Foundation. “The sweetheart deal between the ranchers and the BLM was put into motion when the Interior Department invited RSGA to file the suit against it, so that the BLM could capitulate to the ranchers’ demands, and then claim it is under a ‘court order’ to remove the horses.”

Kathrens recently photographed the Great Divide Basin wild horses, which are targeted for elimination under the consent decree. The backroom dealing involved in this case was recently exposed in an article on The Atlantic.com entitled, How the Department of Interior Sold Out America’s Wild Horses. 

Also objecting to the consent decree was Lloyd Eisenhauer, a former BLM manager in the Rock Springs and Rawlins areas. Eisenhauer submitted a declaration for the intervenors stating the following with regard to the BLM’s plans to zero out the Great Divide Basin and Salt Wells herds: 

“The BLM has no biological or ecological basis for zeroing out a herd of wild horses in an HMA that existed at the time the wild horse statute was passed in 1971 . . . [B]ecause the wild horses have a statutory right to be there, whereas livestock only have a privilege that can be revoked at any time by BLM, there also is no authority or precedent, to my knowledge, for the agency to zero out these two longstanding wild horse herds simply to appease private livestock grazers.”

Eisenhauer also called the BLM’s plan to convert the White Mountain wild horse population to non-reproducing a “slow motion zeroing out of this HMA” that is “inconsistent with any wild horse management approach I am familiar with that BLM has implemented on public lands.”

Under the now-court sanctioned consent decree, the BLM will move forward with a plan to reduce the maximum number of wild free-roaming horses allowed in the state of Wyoming by 46%, from 3,685 to 2,070. An additional 205-300 sterilized horses (castrated stallions and spayed mares) would be allowed to remain on the land.

Specifically, the consent decree outlines the BLM’s plans to:

  • Zero out (entirely eliminate) wild horses from the Salt Wells and Great Divide Basin Herd Management Areas (HMAs);
  • Sterilize wild horses in the White Mountain HMA, thus destroying the federally-protected wild free-roaming behaviors of the mustangs who are a popular tourist attraction
  • Cut by more than half the number of wild horses in the famed Adobe Town Herd Management Area.

The consent decree settles a lawsuit, filed in July 2011 by the RSGA against the BLM, seeking removal of all wild horses from the private and public lands of the Wyoming checkerboard. The RSGA is the nation’s largest grazing association and grazes thousands of livestock on BLM lands in the checkerboard for tax-subsidized fees that are approximately 1/16th of market rate.

For more information on the case, please click here

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The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. AWHPC is a campaign founded and sponsored by Return to Freedom.

The Cloud Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of wild horses and burros on our Western public lands with a focus on protecting Cloud’s herd in the Pryor Mountains of Montana. Cloud is the subject of Foundation founder Ginger Kathrens’ groundbreaking PBS/Nature documentaries.

International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, founded over 50 years ago, was instrumental in securing the enactment of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the landmark federal legislation that established protections for wild free-roaming horses and burros on public lands in the West.

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