Wild horse advocates have filed a lawsuit in a bid to block plans by federal authorities to target mustangs in northwestern Colorado.
The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Washington DC by Valerie Stanley and Mara Hurwitt, alleges that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act by authorizing the removal of 167 wild horses from public lands in the West Douglas Herd Area and the Piceance East Douglas Herd Management Area.
The advocates fear the BLM will effectively zero out the West Douglas herd and significantly reduce the size of the Piceance herd without conducting proper environmental analyses and without making substantiated findings required under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
The plaintiffs in the case, filed late on Friday, are The Cloud Foundation, the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, the Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition, and Colorado residents Dr Don Moore, Toni Moore and Barb Flores.
Their complaint challenges the BLM’s White River Field Office over what the plaintiffs allege is its “ongoing illegal treatment of wild horses”.
They note that its January 2015 Environmental Assessment, states “that all wild horses within or adjacent to the WDHA meet the statutory definition of excess animals, and therefore … the BLM shall immediately remove excess animals from the range”.
The plaintiffs are challenging the BLM’s population estimate of 291 wild horses within the West Douglas herd management area and an additional 74 horses outside its boundaries.
They assert that the numbers are in reality much lower than estimated and projected, saying that the BLM’s annual herd growth estimate of 20 percent was not supported by science.
They allege that the planned operation threatens the genetic viability of the populations.
The volunteer executive director of The Cloud Foundation, Ginger Kathrens, said: “We have battled the destruction of this historic herd in the courts for decades.
“As recently as 2009 the courts ruled against the BLM when District Court Judge Collyer enjoined the BLM from removing any wild horses from the herd.
“BLM’s historic scapegoating of wild horses is a smoke screen. Rangeland damage is caused by thousands of head of privately owned livestock, not our publicly owned and theoretically protected wild horses.”
Toni Moore, who is a board member of the foundation, said: “Mustangs inhabited the West Douglas Herd Area long before Colorado was even a territory, let alone a state.”
In their September 1, 1776, diary entry, Spanish Explorer-Priests Dominguez and Escalante wrote about meeting Ute Indians riding horses in these valleys: “We set out from San Ramón toward the north, and having traveled three leagues through small valleys with abundant pasturage and thick groves of dwarf oak, we met about 80 Yutas [Utes] all on good horses, most of them being from the ‘rancheria’ to which we were going.”
The president and co-founder of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, R.T. Fitch, said: “Using the BLM’s own statistics, the wild horses are outnumbered by a minimum of 4 to 1 by the welfare cattle allowed to graze on the horse’s range.
“The concept of the Federal Government destroying this herd to line the pockets of a few of their bedfellows ought to spark outrage in each and every American’s heart and soul. Enough is enough and we are making a stand.”
The plaintiffs say that, if allowed to go forward, the agency’s round-up will reduce wild horse herds in Colorado to four, and the number of horses to just 1150.