America’s Wild Horses are Facing Their Last Stand — and We Stand With Them

The Wild Horse Defense Fund fuels Return to Freedom’s selective litigation efforts, humane observation of roundups, policy reform, and advocacy.

Humane Observation
RTF’s humane observers are on-the-ground witnesses who document helicopter roundups and the handling of wild horses by Bureau of Land Management contractors. Having an active voice has proven valuable for holding BLM and its contractors accountable for the humane handling of wild horses, pressing for improvements to humane standards, and educating policymakers and the public about how tax dollars are used on our shared public lands.

Our wild horses and burros are caught in a battle over the use of our federal and state lands and the distribution of the natural resources there. With no one directly profiting from their freedom, wild horses and burros have been systematically captured and removed from the American West in response to pressure from ranching, hunting, mining, and other economically driven special interest groups.

The protection and conservation of our natural resources is paramount to restoring balance on America’s vast rangelands, so that true preservation, within a truly wild environment, might one day be possible.

Part of our work includes making the case for the quantifiable value of the American Wild Horse wild on the range in the long run in order for them to have a place for decisionmakers to protect them. Eco-tourists and international visitors clamor to view the American Mustang in the wild. The potential for this industry over the next 20 years (as was the case for the whale watching industry), if we save wild horses on the range, will be phenomenal.

Return to Freedom selectively litigates against actions which would set dangerous precedent to threaten America’s wild horses and burros. Below are current litigations in which we’re involved.

ACTIVE LITIGATION: WYOMING CHECKERBOARD, WYOMING

Wild Stallion, Wyoming, Photo: Kimerlee Curyl
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Return to Freedom is continuing to fight alongside the AWHPC and The Cloud Foundation in a legal battle over the removal of more than 1,200 federally protected wild horses from three Herd Management Areas in Wyoming that span both public and private lands, creating a checkerboard area.

It is RTF’s contention that the BLM ignored the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act when they bowed to pressure from private landowners who were part of the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) to remove “nuisance’ horses from their private lands. In doing so, BLM also captured federally protected wild horses on public lands. RTF has been in and out court throughout 2015 and will continue to challenge what it considers to be the unlawful removal of wild horses.

Landmark Updates October 2016
On Oct. 14, 2016 the 10th Circuit of Appeals ruled that the Bureau of Land Management in 2014 violated two federal laws, the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the Federal Land Policy Management Act, when it captured and removed 1,263 wild horses from Wyoming’s Checkerboard Region.

That ruling came three days after the 10th Circuit upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the State of Wyoming against the BLM, also in 2014, seeking removal of wild horses from public lands.

The 10th Circuit rejected the state’s arguments that BLM was required to remove the horses because the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 doesn’t define the phrase “appropriate management level.”

Bill Eubanks of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Eubanks, who represented Return to Freedom and its fellow plaintiffs, believes that this will be precedent-setting decision with “important implications for federal wild horse policy for decades to come.”

On the heels of the Oct. 14 ruling, the BLM cancelled another roundup of 500 horses in the Checkerboard planned for this month.

RTF is proud to share these victories with The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign — which funded and did the heavy lifting in the 2014 cases — and fellow plaintiffs The Cloud Foundation, wild horse photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl, and supporters of wild horses and burros like you.

To read the full press releases about the decisions, please click here and here.

Wyoming Checkerboard Wild Horse Roundups & News
ACTIVE LITIGATION: SAYLOR CREEK, IDAHO

Saylor Creek, Idaho, Photo: Kimerlee Curyl
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On January 4, 2016, Return to Freedom, American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), The Cloud Foundation, and Virginia Marie Hudson filed a lawsuit in the Idaho District Court against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The organizations argue that the agency’s plan to permanently sterilize the entire herd of wild horses in the Saylor Creek Herd Management Area (HMA) violates the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (“Wild Horse Act”) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
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Saylor Creek Wild Horse Roundups & News
ACTIVE LITIGATION: DEVIL’S GARDEN, CALIFORNIA

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On March 24, 2014, Return to Freedom, along with a coalition of animal and environmental groups, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to stop the U.S. Forest Service from eliminating thousands of acres of protected territory and rounding up as much as 80% of the wild horses in the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in northeast California’s Modoc National Forest (see press release). The lawsuit asserts that the Forest Service’s decision violates federal animal protection and environmental laws and unlawfully prioritizes ranchers and privately-owned livestock above federally protected wild horses.

Advocates, including Return to Freedom, argued their case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on January 11, 2017, in an effort to reverse a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to remove 23,000 acres from the heart of one of California’s only wild horse territories.

The appeals court is expected to release its ruling in two to three months. Still active/pending.

During the mid-1980s, the U.S. Forest Service added 23,000 acres to the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory in Northern California and later, in 1991, the agency formalized the change as part of the plan for Modoc National Forest. The Forest Service maintained minimum populations of wild horses on these additional lands until December 2012. Then, the Forest Service announced that the expanded acreage for wild horses was “an administrative mistake,” and that it planned to capture and remove all horses from the expanded area.

The wild horse advocates contend that the Forest Service’s about-face on a policy that it had followed for years is detrimental to more than the wild horses at Devil’s Garden: If agencies can make such changes without a coherent and logical explanation for doing so, without supporting documents, it puts all wild horse territories at risk.

In 2016, a lower court failed to acknowledge the plaintiffs’ complaint that the Forest Service’s decision violates federal animal protection and environmental laws and unlawfully prioritizes ranchers and privately owned livestock above federally protected wild horses.

Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Roundups & News