A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected appeals by several horse-hugger groups intent on stopping the Bureau of Land Management from rounding up wild horses and burros.
Judge Johnnie Rawlinson of Las Vegas dissented, but it was not a dissent the horse-huggers should hang their hats on.
Rather, her dissent could be cited by the Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, who have sued the Department of Interior, the BLM, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and others for failing to follow the requirements of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
In the fall of 2010 the BLM rounded up 1,800 wild horses and burros from the 800,000-acre Twin Peaks herd management area on the Nevada-California border, because there were three times as many horses and burros as the range could sustain. After the gathering, fewer than 1,000 horses and burros remained.
The groups In Defense of Animals and Dreamcatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary and others sued to try to stop the gather and continued the suit afterward claiming the BLM failed to follow the law to protect the animals from “capture, branding, harassment or
Two judges ruled the BLM action was within the scope of the law.
But Rawlinson wrote in her dissent that the BLM failed to follow the letter of the law as clearly written:
Section 1333(b) authorizes the Secretary to remove only
“excess animals.” If an overpopulation of wild horses exists,
the Act mandates that any removal take place “in the
following order and priority, until all excess animals have
(A) The Secretary shall order old, sick, or
lame animals to be destroyed in the most
humane manner possible;
(B) The Secretary shall cause such
number of additional excess wild freeroaming
horses and burros to be humanely
captured and removed [for adoption] . . . ; and
(C) The Secretary shall cause additional
excess wild free-roaming horses and burros
for which an adoption demand . . . does not
exist to be destroyed in the most humane and
cost efficient manner possible.
The Act couldn’t be clearer. (Emphasis added.)
In other words, the BLM is failing to destroy excess animals as the law dictates and is warehousing them in corrals and on private pastures in the mid-West.
There are 40,000 wild horses and burros on the open range, which exceeds by nearly 14,000 the number the range can handle. Off the range, there are more than 48,000 animals in either short-term corrals or long-term pastures, which the taxpayers are feeding for their average 25-year life span.
The Nevada federal suit brought by the counties and the farm agency argues the BLM is starving the very animals the law was intended to protect.
“Free-roaming horse and burro herds in Nevada are frequently observed to be in malnourished condition, with the ribs and skeletal features of individual animals woefully on view and other signs of ill-health readily observable,” the suit says.
The federal agencies often claim that their ability to properly maintain the population of wild horses and burros is hampered by a lack of funds. The suit calls this a “self-inflicted handicap,” because half of the BLM’s horse and burro budget is going to warehousing those 48,000 animals.
At the Twin Peaks roundup, the BLM failed to first destroy all the “old, sick, or lame animals.” In fact only two were euthanized due to leg injuries, according to BLM records. Nor has there been any mention as to whether any of the unadoptable animals were “destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”
Oddly enough an attorney for the horse-hugger groups told Courthouse News, that she agreed with Rawlinson.
“Aside from Judge Rawlinson’s dissent, the court refused to recognize any constraint on the BLM’s management of wild horses,” the attorney said in an email. “We had hoped that we would get a panel that would actually look past the BLM’s hyperbolic rhetoric and recognize that Congress clearly intended to protect wild horses and burros in their wild state, and in doing so imposed constraints on when and how the agencies could manage them.”
But instead of humanely destroying the feral horses and burros as the law dictates, the BLM states proudly on its website:
“The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management care deeply about the well-being of wild horses, both on and off the range, and it has been and remains the policy of the BLM not to sell or send wild horses or burros to slaughter. Consequently, as the Government Accountability Office noted in a report issued in October 2008, the BLM is not in compliance with a December 2004 amendment (the so-called Burns Amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act) that directs the Bureau to sell excess horses or burros “without limitation” to any willing buyer.”
They admit they are violating the law.