Press Release from In Defense of Animals:
Calico Wild Horse Lawsuit Dismissed on Technicality, not Merits;
Government Evades Ruling on Illegality of Warehousing Wild Horses in the Midwest
Plaintiffs Promise To Continue Fight to Halt BLM Illegal Practices
Washington, D.C. (May 24, 2010) — Today, the Honorable Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court in Washington DC, dismissed on standing and mootness the lawsuit brought against U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by animal protection organization In Defense of Animals (IDA), wildlife ecologist Craig Downer and children’s author Terri Farley. The Calico wild horse lawsuit has drawn intense public scrutiny to the government’s wild horse program and its routine policy of removing wild horses from their native western range on public lands and stockpiling them in long-term holding facilities in the Midwest, costing taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars annually.
The Calico lawsuit, filed pro bono by the law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney (BIR), sought to stop the roundup of a proposed 2,500 wild horses from the half-million (500,000) acre herd management area complex, which is comprised primarily of publicly-owned lands. In a preliminary ruling, the Court agreed that the the government’s practice of sending wild horses to the Midwest and warehousing them in long-term holding facilities as likely illegal.
Today’s decision did not address the merits of that argument, only the lack of standing by plaintiffs to bring it. The Judge also ruled that the arguments challenging the roundup methods were moot because the roundup had already occurred.
“We remain confident in the merits of our case and look forward to pursuing this legal issue in the near future,” said William J. Spriggs, lead counsel for BIR in this case. “The BLM’s practice of removing horses from the western range and warehousing them in Midwestern holding facilities is flat out illegal, and the judge’s preliminary ruling in this regard was correct.”
The Calico Mountain Complex roundup of 1,922 wild horses is one of the largest roundups in recent years. The BLM removed at least 80-90 percent of the Calico wild horse population, leaving behind an “estimated” 600 horses on the 550,000 acre (or 859 square mile) Complex in northwest Nevada. The roundup ended on February 4, 2010, 500 horses short of its target for removal. The roundup proceeded despite a ruling by Judge Friedman suggesting that the BLM postpone the Calico roundup. To date, 97 horses have died during or after the roundup and more than 50 heavily pregnant mares have spontaneously aborted fetuses due to the stress of the roundup and holding.
Wild horses comprise a small fraction of grazing animals on public lands, where they are outnumbered by livestock nearly 50 to 1. The BLM has recently increased cattle grazing allotments in areas where wild horses are being removed. Currently the BLM manages more than 256 million acres of public lands of which cattle grazing is allowed on 160 million acres; wild horses are only allowed on 26.6 million acres this land, which must be shared with cattle. The Obama Administration plans to remove nearly 12,000 wild horses and burros from public lands by October 2010. There are currently more than 36,000 wild horses warehoused in government holding facilities and only 33,000 wild horses free on the range.