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Wild horses, file 2014. REUTERS Jim Urquhart

10/12/16 REUTERS LEGAL 10:00:01


Copyright (c) 2016 Thomson Reuters


October 12, 2016

BLM has discretion on removing excess wild horses from public lands – 10th Circuit

David Bailey

(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday rejected a Wyoming lawsuit that demanded the federal government remove hundreds of wild horses from herd management areas in the state where populations exceeded established limits.

Siding with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and three conservation groups, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the federal agency has discretion to decide whether removal is required where wild horse populations reach above appropriate management levels.

Wyoming argued the BLM had a nondiscretionary duty under the U.S. Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to remove horses from seven herd management areas, or HMAs, in the state where 2014 populations undisputably exceeded limits.

The state said the setting of an appropriate management limit on horse populations represented a scientific determination of the ecological balance in the management area, requiring the BLM to gather wild horses where those limits were exceeded.

”Contrary to the state’s argument, a determination that an overpopulation exists in a given HMA is not sufficient, standing alone, to trigger any duty on the part of the BLM,” Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote for the court.

Bill Eubanks, who represented the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, the Cloud Foundation and Return to Freedom groups that intervened in support of the BLM, said the decision has implications throughout the American West.

”The appellate court has clearly affirmed two important issues – first that wild horse populations in excess of the BLM’s arbitrarily established ‘appropriate’ management levels do not equate with overpopulation, and second that the BLM is not required to remove wild horses from the range even if it determines an overpopulation exists,” Eubanks said.

A representative of the Wyoming attorney general’s Office could not be reached immediately for comment.

Wyoming in August 2014 demanded BLM remove horses from seven herd management areas where populations exceeded appropriate management levels. BLM responded in November 2014 that it had not yet determined whether removal was necessary and it would consider Wyoming’s requests along with horse management needs across the western United States still in planning.

In December 2014, Wyoming filed a petition for review with the federal court in Wyoming, arguing BLM failed in a mandatory nondiscretionary duty to manage the horses.

A federal judge in Wyoming dismissed the case in April 2015, finding BLM had wide latitude to decide when it is necessary to remove wild horses from public lands. Wyoming appealed. The case was argued in the Circuit Court three weeks ago.

The panel of Briscoe, Judge Monroe McKay and Judge Scott Matheson said the act does not define “appropriate management level,” equate it with any requirement to remove excess animals from an area or obligate BLM to make an immediate determination on removal.

The statute requires determination both of an excess population and that removal of excess animals is necessary. And although it was undisputed there was an overpopulation of horses, BLM had not decided whether removal was necessary, Briscoe said.

The case is Wyoming v. U.S. Department of the Interior, 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-8041.

For the petitioner-appellant Wyoming: Michael McGrady, senior assistant attorney general, Wyoming

For the respondent-appellees: Allen Brabender and Alison Finnegan, U.S. Justice Department Environment & Natural Resources Division

For intervenor-appellees: William Eubanks and Katherine Meyer of Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks

—- Index References —-

News Subject: (Forecasts (1FO11); Government Litigation (1GO18); Judicial Cases & Rulings (1JU36); Legal (1LE33); Population Demographics (1PO77))

Industry: (Veterinary Services (1VE79))

Region: (Americas (1AM92); North America (1NO39); U.S. West Region (1WE46); USA (1US73); Wyoming (1WY84))

Language: EN

Other Indexing: (Alison Finnegan; Allen Brabender; Jim Urquhart; Jim UrquhartWild; Michael McGrady; Scott Matheson; Katherine Meyer; Bill Eubanks; William Eubanks; Monroe McKay; Mary Beck Briscoe)

Keywords: energy (MCC:OEC); (N2:US); (N2:AMERS); (N2:NAMER); (N2:USA); (MCCL:OVR)

Word Count: 598



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