Federal District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer has found the BLM exceeded its authority in its plan to remove all wild horses from the West Douglas Herd Area in Colorado. Â The judge struck down the plan and stopped the BLM from implementing it, saving the lives and families of dozens of horses in this herd.Â
The Colorado Wild Horses and Burros Coalition, Inc., American Mustang and Burro Association, Inc., the Cloud Foundation, Inc., and Front Range Equine Rescue, brought the complaint in the District of Columbia federal court, claiming the BLM plan violates the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. Â§1331, et seq.
The plan, known as the 2008 Gather Plan, was to remove all wild horses from this area beginning Oct. 2008. "The gather methods used w[ould] include helicopter drive trapping, helicopter assisted roping, water trapping, or bait trapping."
The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act provides that "Congress finds and declares that wild free roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene." 16 U.S.C. Â§1331.
The Act further provides that "[i]t is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found". The BLM says that the term "where presently found" Â means "the geographic area identified as having been used by a herd as its habitat in 1971." 43 C.F.R. Â§ 4700.0-5(d).
In a 2004 amendment to the Act, slipped into an appropriations bill that was thousands of pages long, the BLM was given the authority to sell certain "excess" horses and burros. As a result of that amendment, thousands of wild horses have been sold for slaughter by the BLM, the agency charged with protecting them.Â (For more on that amendment and the efforts to repeal it…)
In this case, however, the BLM conceded the horses in this herd are not "excess animals". The term "excess animals" is defined as "wild free-roaming horses or burros (1) which have been removed from an area by the Secretary pursuant to applicable law or, (2) which must be removed from an area in order to preserve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple-use relationship in that area." Id. Â§ 1332(f). Section 1333(b)(2) specifically provides an "order and priority" for removal of excess animals "until all excess animals have been removed so as to restore a thriving natural ecological balance to the range, and protect the range from the deterioration associated with overpopulation." Id. Â§ 1333(b)(2). The BLM also has the authority to "order old, sick, or lame animals to be destroyed in the most humane manner possible." Id. Â§ 1333(b)(2)(A).
The Court noted that "[t]he principal problem in maintaining wild horses in the West Douglas Herd Area is a major shift in wild horse grazing use patterns that has occurred since the early 1980’s….It is probable that intense energy exploration and development occurring in the northern part of the herd area has concentrated use in the south…. Accordingly, it is this shift in the West Douglas Herd’s grazing patterns, likely caused by human development, and not overpopulation, that formed the basis for BLM’s decision to remove the West Douglas Herd."
The Court found the BLM had not determined there was an overpopulation of wild horses in this herd and conceded the horses were not "excess" animals.
The Court concluded that "decision to remove an entire herd of concededly non-excess wild free-roaming horses and burros is … impermissible". With that finding, Judge Rosemary Collyer put an end to the BLM’s overreaching claim that it can round up and send to slaughter or otherwise destroy any wild horses, whether or not they are deemed "excess". The judge put it bluntly, "Congress did not intend for BLM’s management authority to be so broad."
A full copy of the opinion is attached below and can be downloaded. The horses in the West Douglas Herd have been saved from brutal roundups and slaughter – for now. Â Read more about BLM plans to destroy large numbers of wild horses. Read about the bill, H.R. 1018, that is pending in Congress, that will put an end to the BLM’s "management" of these beautiful animals by rounding them up and sending them to slaughter.