The Bureau of Land Management’s decision to geld and release male horses, instead of permanently removing them as a form of population control in Nevada, wasn’t arbitrary or capricious, the Ninth Circuit said Thursday.
BLM developed its Gather Plan in 2017 in response to an overpopulation of wild horses in northeastern Nevada. The area has an excess population of about 8,600 wild horses, according to the agency. Under the plan, horses would be removed and fertility-control treatments would be administered over a 10-year period.
American Wild Horse Campaign and wild horse photographer Kimerlee Curyl sued the agency, saying it failed to complete an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
They say five of NEPA’s intensity factors show gelding and releasing horses would have significant effects on the environment. They say the plan has highly uncertain and controversial effects, the area has unique characteristics, the decision establishes precedent, and the decision threatens to violate the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed.
While there are few studies on how gelded horses react when they’re released into the wild, the Bureau properly used existing research to predict those effects are likely insignificant, the court said. Also, the plaintiffs haven’t provided evidence showing returning geldings would affect herd behavior, according to the ruling.
BLM’s finding that the gather area isn’t close to historical or cultural resources wasn’t arbitrary or capricious. Wild horses aren’t a cultural resource for the purposes of the NEPA, according to the ruling.
The court said the plan doesn’t establish precedent because it doesn’t set gelding as an accepted population-management tool, and it isn’t the agency’s first instance of releasing geldings to the range. Also, the agency followed the mandates of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
As a result, the agency properly determined an environmental impact statement wasn’t required, the court said in affirming the lower court’s ruling.
Judge Susan P. Graber wrote the opinion. Judge Daniel P. Collins and Sixth Circuit Judge Ronald Lee Gilman, sitting by designation, were on the panel.