The U.S. Appeals Court in Denver Tuesday upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a suit the state of Wyoming filed seeking the removal of wild horses from public lands across Wyoming.
The case was first filed in federal District Court by Wyoming, which sued the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the government’s free-roaming wild horse program.
The state claimed the BLM failed to keep the horse population in seven so-called herd management areas within a range that would prevent range land damage.
In December 2014, the state filed suit saying the BLM had made a decision “not to manage wild horses in Wyoming according to their mandatory, non-discretionary obligations under the Act,” according to a court document.
The Bureau and the BLM responded that they don’t have a mandatory duty to remove wild horses from herd management areas. The district court issued an order dismissing the case, and the state filed an appeal with the Tenth District Court of Appeals.
“The state’s arguments, however are contrary to the plain language,” of the law, according to the opinion issued by the three-member Appellate Court panel.
The Act directs the BLM to maintain an inventory of wild free-roaming horses and burros on public lands, saying the inventory’s purpose is in part to determine whether an overpopulation exists and whether action should be taken to remove excess animals, the opinion said.
The second statutory requirement hasn’t been met, the opinion said, because “the BLM has not determined that action is necessary to remove the excess animals …. the BLM is under no statutory duty to remove animals from the seven HMAs at issue.”
“I am disappointed and have asked the Attorney General to review our options,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement. “The BLM is not managing wild horse populations as required under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act …. Mismanagement adversely affects all species and the range lands necessary for their health and survival.”
In a statement, Bill Eubanks, a lawyer who represented the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and other horse advocates that intervened in the case, called the decision a major victory that will have important implications for federal wild horse policy for decades.
The decision affirms that the agency has broad discretion to implement other management approaches “including implementation of fertility control to humanely reduce population growth rates and reduction in livestock grazing,” Eubanks said.