Advocate drops lawsuit over access to wild horses

Wild horses in Nevada.
Wild horses in Nevada. © BLM

Wild horse advocate Laura Leigh has agreed to drop her lawsuit seeking improved access to mustangs during federal roundups and in holding, following a deal with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Nevada state lead for the bureau, Amy Lueders, issued a directive last Friday on access to wild horse and burro helicopter roundups.

Simultaneously, the National BLM office agreed to open the large Broken Arrow horse-holding facility on Indian Lakes Road to public tours.

As a condition of this directive, Leigh has agreed to voluntarily drop her ongoing federal court action over access to the horses and burros.

Leigh, the president and founder of Wild Horse Education, travels the western rangelands observing federally managed musters, but has endured ongoing access problems.

The letter sent out from the Nevada BLM director’s office says its objective was to provide an opportunity for the observation of individual animals when they are gathered, sorted, and/or placed into temporary holding on the date of the gather.

Leigh said access to view captured wild horses and burros would be more important than ever, with rising tensions on the range.

“Wild horses and burros have been hidden from public view for almost two years now at Broken Arrow. After months of conversations we have come up with a starting point to begin to work on access issues outside of the courtroom.

“In addition, I believe we have begun to create a conversation that can address a multitude of issues that begin on the range long before a wild horse or burro is ever removed or family bands shattered.

“Many of those conversations have already begun within districts in this state. It is insane that issues of public access ever had to be taken into a courtroom. It is my sincere hope that we can bring sanity into ways in which issues are addressed before the need for litigation becomes necessary.”

The bureau is expected to announce public tours of Broken Arrow shortly. The capacity of the facility is nearly 3000 wild horses and burros.

Leigh says the closed gates of Broken Arrow are a “personal constant ache” for her.

“That facility should never have been closed off. It is literally contrary to the BLM stated mission to do everything possible to adopt out animals. How can you adopt out a horse or burro the public never gets to see?”

Leigh’s case has gone on for four years. She estimates has traveled more than 250,000 miles in her quest to observe, report and advocate for wild horses and burros during capture and in holding.

“Wild horses and burros in our country are in serious trouble,” she says. “We have a range overpopulated with special-interest groups like livestock and mining that have serious backing and are very organized.

“If we hope to have wild horses on a range that even resembles a ‘wild place’, we need to move fast toward gaining protections for them as was the true intention of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.”

Roundups of wild horses and burros in Nevada are set to resume in September.

Leigh said there was nothing in the agreement that precluded her from addressing the access issue in court once again should the directive fail to provide appropriate access.

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