Excess wild horse numbers damaging rangeland
Overpopulation hurts horse herds, rangeland health, and cattle allotment management
by Wyoming Stock Growers Association
December 17, 2015
On December 14, Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) filed an amicus brief in support of the State of Wyoming in its 10th Circuit Court appeal of the District Court decision regarding seven Herd Management Areas (HMA’s) administered by the BLM in central and western Wyoming. WSGA had filed a similar brief at the District Court level. WSGA is represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation.
In its brief WSGA emphasized the impact that excess wild horse numbers have on the rangelands used by its members. WSGA President Niels Hansen commented, "When horses are not managed within AML’s (Appropriate Management Levels) the public resource suffers, our livestock are impacted and, often, adjacent state and private lands are damaged. Increasingly, we are even seeing grazing permits reduced due to the impacts of horses. WSGA cannot stand by while this destruction continues."
WSGA supports the position of the State that removal of horses in excess of AML is a mandatory, non-discretionary action under the Wild Horse and Burro Act (WHA) as amended in 1986. In August of 2014 Governor Mead sent a Letter to Interior Secretary Jewell and BLM Director Kornze citing the fact that BLM had failed to remove excess horses from seven of eight HMA’s that were over AML. The Governor emphasized the impact of these horses on sage grouse habitat, wildlife and state lands.
When BLM failed to act, the State filed suit in federal District Court. The district court ruled that the BLM was not required to remove excess wild horses from the seven HMAs, even though the BLM had already determined what constitutes an excess wild horse population for each HMA when it established the AMLs and the BLM’s own data revealed wild horse populations were above AML. In part, the decision was based on a determination that the presence of horse numbers above AML was not, of itself, a determination that there were "excess" horses under the provisions of the Act.
WSGA’s brief focuses on three key points. First, failure to remove excess horses is a discrete agency action that is subject to challenge. Second, such removal is a mandatory, non-discretionary duty that the BLM is required to undertake. Third, the District Court decision is inconsistent with the WHA and with the clear intent of Congress.
WSGA anticipates that the case will be heard by the Court in the spring of 2016.