RTF files suit to stop BLM from taking 2 million acres from Wyoming wild horses

A contractor’s helicopter drives wild horses toward the trap site during a 2017 roundup in Wyoming’s Checkerboard region. RTF photo.

CHEYENNE, WYO.–Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation announced on May 17, 2023 that it had filed suit in federal court to stop the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from stripping about 2 million acres from wild horses in southwest Wyoming for the benefit of private livestock ranchers.

“This decision must not be allowed to stand,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom (RTF), a national nonprofit wild horse and burro advocacy organization. “The BLM is using an agreement with livestock ranchers as an excuse to violate its responsibilities under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Federally protected wild horses and burros must not be allowed to be removed from our public lands due to private landowner pressure — or whole herds will vanish across the West.”

RTF is joined in the lawsuit by plaintiffs Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER), a Colorado nonprofit organization, and wild horse photographers and advocates Meg Frederick and Angelique Rea.

Under the BLM’s changes, finalized on May 8, 2023, the agency will:

  • remove 1.95 million acres from wild horse use by converting the Salt Wells and Great Divide Herd Management Areas to inactive Herd Areas not managed for horses;
  • manage the herd on the 393,000-acre White Mountain Herd Management Area as non-reproducing, effectively zeroing it out, too, with the agency considering population management tools that are dangerous, inhumane, unproven, costly (surgical sterilization of mares), ineffective (sex-ratio skewing) or that do not have a fully understood effect on wild herds (gelding stallions);
  • slash its population target for the 478,000-acre Adobe Town Herd Management Area from a range of 610-800 wild horses to just 225-450 horses; and
  • potentially engage in illegal and unnecessary surgical sterilization of the resident wild horses.

The BLM says that it amended its Resource Management Plan based on an agreement it entered into in 2013 with the Rock Springs Grazing Association.

The ranching group sued for the removal of all of the wild horses from the 2-million-acre Checkerboard region, an unfenced area of alternating, one-mile-square blocks of public and private land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad.

BLM’s reason for removing land from wild horse use: complying with its legal obligations to America’s wild horses is too much trouble for it.

“The BLM can’t just throw up its hands because Congress handed it a challenge,” said Hilary Wood, president of plaintiff FRER. “That’s just not good enough for the agency charged with conserving wild horses and burros on our public lands on behalf of all Americans.”

The announced changes demonstrate explicit bias and violation of federal law. And during a $1.1 million, three-month-long helicopter roundup from late 2021 to early 2022. the BLM set the stage for the changes by capturing and removing 3,502 wild horses from their home ranges in Southwest Wyoming. Thirty-seven wild horses died during the roundup.

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