A judge in Nevada has granted part of a temporary restraining order sought against the Bureau of Land Management over its emergency wild horse muster in the Jackson Mountain herd area.
The bureau roundup began under urgency on June 8 because of concerns over drought and a lack of forage in the southern part of the animals’ range.
However, the decision to move the planned muster of 630 horses a month forward because of the drought placed it in the foaling season.
Wild horse advocates criticised the roundup, pointing to the dangers inherent in running newborn foals and heavily pregnant mares, who could slip their foals because of the stress.
The bureau countered that the muster was necessary, given the circumstances on the range, and undertook to take care.
On Wednesday, in Federal District Court in Reno, Judge Howard McKibben granted part of a temporary restraining order sought against the bureau by wild horse advocate Laura Leigh.
The ruling allows the bureau to use helicopters only in the southern part of the range where drought issues were causing welfare concerns, and not in other parts of the range, where the situation was less serious, during the foaling season.
Leigh argued that the bureau launched the roundup because of a water emergency in the southwest portion of the area, but used it to begin a removal operation in the entire area of wild horses during foaling season. The bureau’s own protocols prohibit roundups during foaling season except in emergency situations.
“The ruling reflects that Judge McKibben understands that the agency justified an action and then broadened their discretion to take actions that they had not justified,” said Gordon Cowan, the Reno-based attorney for Leigh, after the hearing.
“There is a clear distinction under law and the court’s ruling was a clear reflection of that distinction.”
Leigh, the founder of Wild Horse Education, has been monitoring the roundup. She said: “I understand the positive importance of the ruling and recognition of distinct language in the system to begin to attain any accountability within the agency, but I am still gravely concerned.
“This agency is well known for pushing boundaries and the very real potential exists that they will continue to push at Jackson until they create another imbalance that can lead to further inappropriate action.”
Leigh is referring to the fact that the agency is limited to using helicopters to roundup wild horses to the scope of the documented emergency in the south of Jackson.
“The agency has targeted 630 animals for removal,” Leigh said.
“If they push in the south they will imbalance an area. The right thing to do would be to stop for now, as more than 315 horses have been removed from the south, and monitor to see if enough pressure has been removed from the range. But is that what we can expect?”
She said there were currently no formal use restrictions anywhere within the Jackson Mountain herd area for any users.
The area had livestock grazing and considerable extractive industry, she said.
“If the concept here, according to the law is fair and equitable use,” Leigh said, “how can there be an emergency of such magnitude that it requires running newborn foals in the desert heat during the most fragile time of their lives, if no other use has a restriction?”