Court Tosses Wyoming Mustang Removal Appeal

By Pat Raia, The Horse

October 13, 2016

A federal court in Denver, Colorado, has dismissed an appeal from the state of Wyoming seeking the removal of wild horses from the state’s Checkerboard area, where private, federal, and state lands intermingle and several herd management areas (HMAs) are located.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act federally protects wild horses and burros residing in Western states and places them in the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) jurisdiction. In 2014, the BLM began removing wild horses from the Checkerboard area to comply with a consent decree between the BLM and the owners of livestock that graze BLM lands. Prior to the removal, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said the state would sue the Department of the Interior and the BLM over its wild horse and burro management relative to range use. Wyoming subsequently filed suit against the alleging that the gather was illegal and asked the courts to order the BLM to manage the state’s wild horses according to the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

“It is my belief, and the belief of other Western governors, that the BLM does not have the resources to manage wild horses effectively,” Mead said in a written statement. “By filing suit it sends a message that wild horse management is a priority and the BLM must be provided the funding necessary to manage them.”

That initial lawsuit was dismissed, and Wyoming appealed the decision.

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that dismissal.

“As noted, the Wild-Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act does not define the phrase 'appropriate management level' and, thus, does not equate it with any requirement to remove excess animals from a particular HMA,” the decision said. “The BLM is under no statutory duty to remove animals from the … HMAs at issue.”

Attorney Bill Eubanks, who represented intervenors in the case including the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, Carol Walker, and Kimerlee Curyl, applauded the court's decision.

“This is a major precedential victory that will have important implications for federal wild horse policy for decades to come,” Eubanks said.

In a written statement, Mead said the decision disappointing.

“The BLM is not managing wild horse populations as required under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act,” he said. “Wild horse populations, according to the BLM March 2016 report, are over appropriate management levels in every herd management area except one in Wyoming. Wyoming wildlife and wild horses are treasured assets. Mismanagement adversely affects all species and the rangelands necessary for their health and survival.”

Mead will order the Wyoming Attorney General to review the state's option, the statement said.