Judge issues temporary injunction to stop Nevada wild horse roundup

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

A US District Court judge has granted two advocacy groups a preliminary injunction to stop a roundup of wild horses in Nevada’s Pine Nut herd management area.

Judge Larry Hicks, in his Wednesday decision, found that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could not rely on an environmental assessment dating back to 2010 in forming its decision to proceed with the roundup.

The BLM wants to gather all of the estimated 332 wild horses in the area. It wants to permanently remove 200 of them from the range into long-term holding pastures and release the rest. About half the released horses – the mares – will receive the birth control drug, PZP.

The groups Protect Mustangs and Friends of Animals, which had filed the injunction application on January 26, hailed the decision by Hicks.

Protect Mustangs’ executive director, Anne Novak, called it a milestone for America’s wild horses, which she said were being used as a scapegoats for range damage.

The judge ruled that the BLM had failed to satisfy the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and other applicable federal laws in reaching its decision to conduct the muster, which will now be on hold until the court has had an opportunity to fully consider the merits of claims by the two advocacy groups.

The director of Friends of Animals’ wildlife law program, Michael Harris, said the BLM, in relying on the 2010 environmental assessment, had not met its duty to fully inform the public about the impacts associated with its roundup plan.

He spoke against the planned use of PZP in the mares to be released. “It is time for BLM to evaluate the harsh reality that PZP has long-term detrimental effects on wild horses,” Harris said.

Jennifer Barnes, staff attorney with Friends of Animals’ wildlife law program, said the preliminary injunction was a major victory for wild horses and reflected rising concerns about PZP use.

Craig Downer, the director of ecology and conservation for Protect Mustangs, said: “I’m grateful that the wild herd I’ve been studying for 50 years has received justice in federal court today. This is an opportunity to prove our case to restore the herds.”

Judge Hicks, in his ruling, said the role of the courts with respect to NEPA was to ensure that an agency adequately considered the environmental consequence of its action.

“It is undisputed that the BLM did not prepare a separate environmental assessment before their December 19, 2014, decision to gather horses in the Pine Nut herd management area,” he said.

Rather, the BLM issued a determination of NEPA adequacy (DNA) that relied on the 2010 assessment and its 2010 Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) to support its gather decision.

The judge noted that the herd, at 332 animals, was well above the appropriate herd management level for the area and that drought conditions existed throughout Nevada.

“However, the BLM made its roundup decision without conducting an adequate analysis under NEPA,” he found.

“The court finds an insufficient legal basis for the BLM to rely upon the 2010 EA and 2010 FONSI to support its current roundup decision.”

He ruled that the plaintiffs had established that it was likely the BLM, in proceeding with the roundup using the 2010 environmental assessment, would have violated NEPA.

The judge continued: “With the proposed Pine Nut roundup, the BLM is attempting to follow the policy of Congress that wild horses are to be protected at sustainable levels; however, it also appears to have failed to satisfy NEPA and other federal laws which are applicable.

“Accordingly, the court finds that the public interest will be best served by enjoining the BLM’s proposed gather, at least until the court has an opportunity to fully consider the merits of plaintiffs’ claims.”

The judge’s decision in respect of the preliminary injunction can be read here

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