SALT LAKE CITY — A federal district court judge decided this week to allow a coalition of advocates to intervene as defendants in a suit filed by Beaver County, Utah, which would threaten wild horses and tie the hands of those that manage them.
The county wants to force the Bureau of Land Management to immediately remove “excess” wild horses from the Sulphur Herd Management Area.
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, the American Wild Horse Campaign, The Cloud Foundation and photographer Steve Paige are seeking to protect the historically and genetically important Sulphur wild horses from removal from their federally designated habitat and, importantly, to preserve BLM’s ability to manage the wild horse population on the range by using tools like safe, proven, and humane fertility control vaccines.
“Our clients are intervening to defend the public interest in wild horse protection, which is mandated under federal law,” said Nick Lawton of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Eubanks, LLP, the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm representing the groups and individuals intervening in the case. “The BLM has the discretion to manage wild horses in a humane, sustainable and socially acceptable manner, and the special interests of the ranching industry cannot, as a matter of law, dictate federal wild horse management policy.”
Beaver County filed a complaint in February 2017 seeking to force BLM to immediately remove hundreds of wild horses from the herd management area, down to BLM’s designated “Appropriate Management Level.” The county also wants to prevent BLM from “returning, releasing, or relocating wild horses into the Sulphur HMA that would cause the population to exceed the upper limit of the AML.”
That would force BLM to scrap a staggered plan to reduce the wild horse population on the Sulphur HMA over time, including through the use of fertility control vaccines administered to wild mares treated and released back onto the HMA.
In October 2017, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups dismissed Beaver County’s suit without prejudice. The county has subsequently refiled an amended complaint, contending that the delay in removing wild horses is unreasonable and that BLM’s management plans are legally inadequate.
Beaver County filed its initial complaint following a 2017 BLM helicopter roundup on the Sulphur HMA during which 655 wild horses were captured but after which BLM chose to return 192, including 80 mares treated with fertility control vaccine, to the range.
The Sulphur HMA is located in Beaver, Iron and Millard Counties, about 50 miles west of Minersville, Utah, in the Indian Peak and Mountain Home mountain ranges. The wild horses that make their home there have bloodlines dating back to the first horses brought to North America by Spanish explorers in the early 1500s and are among just a handful of herds with strong Spanish genetics.
BLM has set a population limit of 165-250 wild horses for the 267,208-acre Sulphur HMA, or as low as one horse for every 1,619 acres. The low population limit is imposed to allow livestock operators to graze the equivalent of 1,417 cow / calf pairs and 692 sheep on some portion of the Sulphur HMA.
BLM’s plan has been to remove wild horses from the Sulphur HMA two to four times a year for a period of six to 10 years in the agency’s effort to reach AML.
BLM has since conducted another helicopter roundup, in August 2018, which saw 250 wild horses removed from the Sulphur HMA and neighboring Bible Springs Complex. Prior to this year’s roundup, BLM estimated the wild horse population on the Sulphur HMA at 974 wild horses.