Legal Overview

shot2_leigh-1Going to Court Against BLM

Wild Horse Education has three cases coming to federal court within the next month. Some of these cases were started over two years ago by Wild Horse Education founder and president, Laura Leigh, before she created the nonprofit. Leigh, a photojournalist, has been investigating the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for over three years. Her years in the field and comprehensive documentation of BLM activities are what has gained her standing to sue in court.

“These cases read like a weird biography of my life,” Leigh has said.

Owyhee Roundup Case

The first phase of the Owyhee Complex of roundups in Nevada has been completed. Many more roundups are scheduled for the next ten years there. Based on the actions of BLM during the initial phase of this roundup, Wild Horse Education filed for an injunction against the inhumane treatment these horses were receiving. Horses, including foals were repeatedly shocked with cattle prods with no justification, horses were run in freezing temperatures to the point of steaming, which will likely cause pneumonia in many of them, horses were run through ditches, tripping and falling and run over each other, and they were run into barbed wire, cutting themselves and flipping and falling on their necks.

Last week BLM issued a memo claiming to be a policy which identified best management practices for contractors. But the document has no enforcement component and is essentially meaningless. Other such memos were issued but have not been adhered to.

Wild Horse Education is seeking a ten year court ordered humane treatment standard (language) that BLM will be required to comply with.

The Complaint and Injunction also deal with BLM’s inability to accurately identify excess horses on the range. If BLM can not identify excess, they have no authority to remove animals.

Triple B/Jackson Mountain Round Up Case

In August 2011 Wild Horse Education filed a Restraining Order against BLM for striking a horse with a helicopter. This case will be coming to court within the next month and Wild Horse Education will seek the establishment through the courts of an enforceable humane treatment standard for all BLM operations with wild horses and burros.

Triple B was conducted in the height of foaling season and at extreme high temperatures. Injury and stress inflicted by BLM to the horses was again seen including the following :

…horses were observed being struck in the face, and often confused due to aggressive loading procedures and excessive pressure by multiple handlers. Several videos reveal that a few horses were repeatedly shocked with an electrical animal prod, sometimes in the face, and in one case, the use of this electrical prod led to a horse becoming stuck in a panel at the loading site. Some videos reveal horses being struck in more than one instance with the trailer gate to induce loading, and in one instance a horse appears to have been kicked in the head by a Sun J employee (BLM contractor). In one video it appears that a horse was dragged into a trailer by a rope around its neck. 

In Jackson Mountain BLM failed to follow their own policy in regard to “foaling season.” Wild Horse Education won a TRO in that matter and new language to taking cases forward.

Jackson Mountain 2012 had an ineffective Appendix added to the Record of Decision for humane handling, lawsuit filed (and won by WHE) to hold the agency accountable to it's own policy on foaling season
Jackson Mountain 2012 had an ineffective Appendix added to the Record of Decision for humane handling, lawsuit filed (and won by WHE) to hold the agency accountable to it’s own policy on foaling season

Wild Horse Education moved the case on Triple to to an Injunction based on new case law built by Wild Horse Education in another case; “Press Freedoms.”

First Amendment Case

This case was filed by Leigh and Attorney Gordon Cowan in response to the continual restrictions placed on Leigh by BLM , barring her from viewing operations, animals, and facilities deemed  off limits to the public. Without the ability to document and verify the condition of these animals after capture there is no way to ensure their safety and health. This case was originally filed during the Silver King roundup of 2010, the case lost on “mootness.” Discriminatory access, selective access and access that serves only BLM needs are what is at issue and what  created a landmark Ninth Circuit decision for Laura Leigh and Wild Horse Education.

copyright Laura Leigh 2011
copyright Laura Leigh 2011

However Wild Horse Education filed an Appeal on 5/26/2011 that won in the Ninth Circuit in a landmark victory that has created new case law in a published opinion.

To quote the Ninth circuit Court of Appeals: “The relevant question is not whether the BLM prohibited Leigh from observing the horse gather altogether; as in California First Amendment Coalition, the issue here is whether the viewing restrictions were unconstitutional. On that question, the district court failed to conduct the proper First Amendment analysis. The district court did not consider whether horse gathers have traditionally been open to the public, whether public access plays a positive role in the functioning of horse gathers, whether the BLM has demonstrated an overriding interest in the viewing restrictions, or whether the restrictions are narrowly tailored to serve that interest.”

This case is a landmark case and has caught the attention of journalists and legal scholars.

This case will be heard FEBRUARY 19TH in Federal Court in Reno, Nevada. We are not sure of the time, but expect it to be 11 am. Please plan to attend if you can.

Support This Action to Force BLM to Do What is Right for Our Wild Horses and Burros

We need you and your support to keep making these challenges and keep documenting what BLM is doing. Please consider a monthly ongoing donation to Wild Horse Education. That is the best way to keep us going in the field and in the courtroom. Without your help from behind the scenes, we would not all be here, poised to win historic victories for the wild ones. Thank you for all you have done to make this possible! Please find a way to continue the support.


As a journalist attempting to gain access to view the “hands on” care of wild horses and burros by the Bureau of Land Management legal action needed to occur to protect the First Amendment. The case is still pending.

To support the legal effort donate to Wild Horse Education and mark “Legal”

You can mark your donation First Amendment case and it will go directly to attorney fees.

Another case on Inhumane Treatment has been filed by Gordon Cowan on behalf of Plaintiff Laura Leigh, founder of WHE.

Brief filed in First Amendment Case with the Ninth Circuit is attached to our newsletters.

Notes on the First Amendment win in 2012 Newsletter

Spring 2012 Newsletter

Article from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on current state of litigation:

To donate to the ongoing work in the field including roundup reports, facility reports and research click the button below:

Or mark checks “legal” and send to:        Wild Horse Education   216 Lemmon Drive #316  Reno, NV 89506

Public Land closure 2010 Owyhee

Categories: Legal