Wyoming’s governor backs BLM’s checkerboard muster

Wild horses in Wyoming.
Wild horses in Wyoming. © BLM

The state of Wyoming is backing the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to remove wild horses from the state’s checkerboard lands.

Governor Matt Mead says the state is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit brought against the bureau by wild horse advocates, who are challenging the federal roundup.

The motion for a temporary order to stop the muster, which targets more than 800 horses, was filed on August 8 by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, the Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, and wild horse photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead: "We are not against having wild horses on the public lands but they need to be managed appropriately."
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead: “We are not against having wild horses on the public lands but they need to be managed appropriately.”

They have requested a decision by August 29. The roundup was to have started around August 20, but the bureau has agreed to delay it at least until September 1 to give the court time to rule on the motion.

The motion seeks to halt the roundup in the Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek and 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.

Mead said the application to intervene in the case was in a bid to protect the state’s interests in the lawsuit.

He said the planned muster, which aims to remove wild horses from private lands in southwest Wyoming, complies with an agreement between the bureau and a group of local ranchers.

The area involved is part of the checkerboard where private, federal and state lands are intermingled, he added.

“I want to step in to protect the value of Wyoming’s land, defend our sovereign right to manage our wildlife and support ranching families,” Mead said.

“We are not against having wild horses on the public lands but they need to be managed appropriately.

“They must not damage the land or wildlife or conflict with the rights of private property owners. The BLM has a plan in place and it should be implemented.”

Wyoming owns about 62,000 acres in the area. The state’s mission for its State Trust Lands is to effectively manage natural resources and the funds generated from those state lands for current and future generations. Revenue from those lands goes to schools.

In the motion to intervene, the state points out that it leases land to ranchers, but livestock are managed, are on the land for only a few months, and remain only if there is adequate forage.

Wild horses stay on the land year-round and increased populations of the horses inhibit the state’s ability to get the full value of the leases to benefit schools. Additionally, other wildlife can suffer, including some local sage-grouse populations.

Wild horses in Wyoming.
Wild horses in Wyoming. © BLM

However, the advocates challenging the muster believe the muster represents the first step in the planned total elimination of all wild horses in Great Divide Basin and Salt Wells Creek.

The groups note that while the bureau and graziers contend 1912 wild horses overpopulate the 2.4 million acres within the three herd management areas, the horse advocates’ research reveals that 356,222 cattle and 45,206 sheep graze the same lands under federally subsidized grazing leases.

They contend that even in the Adobe Town herd management area, which contains only a small portion of land within the checkerboard, the bureau intends to slash the herd, leaving only 500 horses on over 400,000 acres of federal lands.

“Livestock, not wild horses, overpopulate and degrade the rangelands,” the wild horse advocates said in a statement when they filed their lawsuit.

The plaintiffs motion argues: “BLM authorized this drastic management action without analyzing any of the environmental consequences of a wild horse roundup of this magnitude, or reasonable alternatives to this action, as required by [the National Environmental Policy Act].

“Nor has BLM even purported to make certain statutory determinations required by the [Wild Horse Act] prior to the permanent removal of any wild horses from the range …

“These clear-cut legal violations demonstrate that BLM’s decision is nothing more than a flagrant attempt to skirt the procedures dictated by governing law in a rush to permanently extirpate nearly a thousand horses from the range, including from public lands.”

The plaintiffs say they will suffer irreparable harm if the roundup takes place and are asking the judge to stop the bureau from removing the horses until after the merits of the case are heard.


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