The lawyer at the centre of a legal challenge to the Bureau of Land Management's holding of thousands of wild horses in facilities away from their natural habitat has hit out at cattle interests.
Attorney Bill Spriggs, who represented In Defense and Animals and wildlife ecologist Carig Downer in court action to stop the controversial Calico muster in northern Nevada, said the proposed national solution for future management of America's wild horse herds is a ruse that favours the interests of "Rolex cattlemen and well-heeled hunters".
US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposes a long-term strategy involving more aggressive use of contraception and relocating herds to new formal herd areas to be established further east from the horses' natural range.
While the court action failed to stop the eight-week muster, in which the bureau intends removing up to 2700 horses, US District Judge Paul Friedman saw merit in the argument that the bureau was not within its legal rights to move the animals to long-term holding facilities in Kansas and other states, away from their natural habitat.
"Not only are the actions of the bureau and Salazar against federal legislation, put in place in 1971 and amended over the years," says Spriggs, "it is imprudent and wasteful of taxpayer dollars, especially when citizens are trying to hold on to their jobs, houses, and to just survive.
"I've been involved in public procurement [contracts] for over 40 years and I know waste when I see it. This is waste."
Spriggs, co-chair of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney's Government Contracts Section, is working pro bono in pushing the case forward. He anticipates the court battle may reach the halls of Congress in the next several months.
Spriggs estimates that, over time, the cost to round up wild herds in Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming will total a half billion US dollars.
Then there is the $US50 million-a-year recurring cost to care for 35,000 horses already removed to Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
In Defense of Animals and other advocacy groups have a plan to reduce this expense with a combination of birth control and keeping the horses in their original habitat.
"Right now," says Spriggs, "we are subsidising the cattle industry by giving them rights to the land these wild horses once occupied, and taxpayers are footing the bill.
"The cattlemen are paying about one-tenth the going rate for grazing rights on public lands which are supposed to be occupied by wild horses."