Wild horse advocates have lost a legal bid for a temporary injunction to stop the muster of mustangs from the checkerboard lands of Wyoming, but they have been granted more time to allow for an appeal.
Late on Thursday, the US District Court in Wyoming granted an emergency injunction to delay until September 12 the planned roundup of more than 800 wild horses by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from public and private lands in the Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek and Great Divide Basin Herd Management Areas (HMAs).
The three HMAs total about 2,427,220 acres, with 1,242,176 acres falling within the checkerboard region – so-named because of its alternating public and private land parcels.
Under the muster plan, wild horses will remain in the non-checkerboard sections of the HMAs. About 800 wild horses are to be targeted.
The planned muster complies with an agreement between the bureau and a group of local ranchers involving the removal of the horses from private lands.
The latest injunction allows the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, the Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom and wild horse photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl the chance to appeal the district court’s denial of a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the roundup, which was also issued late on Thursday.
The advocates said in a statement they were disappointed by the court’s denial of their longer-term preliminary injunction request, but pleased a further delay was ordered to allow for an appeal.
“This decision illegally elevates the interests of a small group of private landholders and ranchers over the broader interest of the American public and our federally protected wild horses,” the plaintiffs asserted.
“We look forward to the opportunity to challenge this decision in the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
“The ruling fails to hold the BLM to account for its flagrant violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.”
They noted that more than 40,600 individuals had signed a petition opposing this wild horse roundup. They claimed their voices were being ignored, with the BLM siding with ranchers who grazed livestock on public lands.
“We are hopeful that the Tenth Circuit will reverse the district court’s decision to allow the BLM to trounce federal law and the will of the people by proceeding with this unprecedented wild horse roundup without even attempting to comply with governing laws on federally protected public land.
“At stake is the integrity of well-established laws that govern the BLM’s management of our public lands.”
Chief United States District Court Nancy Freudenthal, in her ruling, said the advocates had argued that, while the Wyoming checkerboard was a unique pattern of land ownership that added difficulty to the management of wild horse populations, it did not allow the BLM to avoid its statutory obligations under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WHA) and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The judge said the petitioners claimed the BLM had “run roughshod” over all of its legal obligations by relying on Section 4 obligations to arrange removal of wild horses that strayed on to private lands.
“BLM argues the fact that some public lands are involved in the gather does not change its duty, and it has no practical ability to segregate wild horses that reside on private lands from those that reside on public lands within the Checkerboard at any one point in time.
“In short, BLM argues Petitioners place it in an impossible situation.”
The judge ruled that the petitioners had not met the required requisite burden, so their bid for a preliminary injunction was denied.
“Both this Court and the Tenth Circuit recognized that BLM is forced to manage the alternating land pattern of the Checkerboard as a single unit,” she said.
The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit on August 1. They are represented in the case by the public interest Washington DC law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.