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RBC I In a decision handed down a long way from northwest Colorado, a federal court in New York denied a lawsuit last week to prevent the gathering of wild horses from the North Piceance Herd Area.
“While this court is accustomed to dealing with bulls and bears on Wall Street, this case turns its attention westward to wild horses in Colorado,” Judge Williams Pauley wrote in his order, issued Oct. 21. “This application for a preliminary injunction has presented many novel issues for an urban court.”
The suit was brought by the Habitat for Horses of Texas, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of New York, The Cloud Foundation of Colorado, and Toni Moore and Dr. Don Moore, Colorado residents.
Named as defendants in the case were Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Robert Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management, and Kent Walter, field manager of the BLM’s White River Field Office.
The plaintiffs claimed the BLM’s decision to remove about 60 wild horses from the North Piceance Herd Area violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
According to court records, “This action proceeded at breakneck speed. On Oct. 14, plaintiffs moved to preliminarily enjoin BLM’s North Piceance gather. On Oct. 15, this court denied plaintiffs’ application for a temporary restraining order that the BLM cease removal of wild horses and return those already removed. On Oct. 16, plaintiffs renewed their application, premised on the deaths of two horses during gather operations outside North Piceance. On Oct. 17, this court denied plaintiffs’ renewed application.”
The gather began Oct. 11 and concluded Oct. 22.
“… all excess wild horses will be removed and transported to the Canon City holding facility,” according to court records. “There, they will be available for adoption or sale to qualified individuals or taken to long-term pastures. … Over the last three years, 62 percent of excess animals removed in gathers were adopted and eight percent sold to qualified buyers. Animals house in long-term pastures remain available for adoption or sale.”
Plaintiffs contended “the BLM is eliminating horses in North Piceance ‘for its convenience,’ and claim that this gather is part of BLM’s pattern and practice for reducing a herd’s population until it is genetically unviable, justifying removal of the herd.”
In the order issued Oct. 21, the court found “… the evidence shows that the real risk of environmental injury is in postponing or undoing the gather. … The BLM must manage public lands ‘so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people.’”
The court went on to say, “… granting a preliminary injunction at this stage would result in the postponement of any gather until at least July 2011. … Vegetation in North Piceance is sparse and slow-growing, and therefore ‘the ecosystem on the range can deteriorate quickly if there are too many animals.’ If the gather is delayed until next year, the wild horse population in North Piceance will increase by 20 percent, ‘exacerbating deteriorating resource conditions even further and resulting in a substantial increase in BLM’s gather cost.’”
The estimated cost of the gather operation was $500,000 and involved more than 40 BLM and independent contractor personnel.