Litigation Update (Overview)

It has been a very busy time at WHE while we work hard on the backside in the fight to protect and preserve our wild horses and burros.

Litigation update

First, we need to say BLM does a lot of whining about litigation from environmental or wild horse orgs. You could stack all of the litigation filed in that arena on top of each other and the cases filed by Livestock in the numerous courts would far surpass the litigation filed by advocates. BLM does not complain about litigation from livestock permittees to gain changes to their permits or removals of wild horses; they only complain about litigation from advocates. In 2024, the removal at Sulpher in Utah and the one at White Mountain in Wyoming, and even East Pershing (although BLM simply labels it as “Nuisance” are livestock litigation driven. 

Litigation serves any movement for change. Every single change we have seen in civil rights, the environment, product safety, etc., has roots that anchor in landmark court cases. Things like the daily access policy to observe roundups anchors in a case (brought by WHE founder Laura Leigh) that has even been used to keep journalists on the frontline covering dangerous stories when the federal government did not want those stories covered, like the Portland riots. 

These types of cases can take years to get through the system. However, the litigation against abuse we drove (prior to BLM even having an internal handling policy) brought about change not only through court orders, but through the attention it received in the media and public.

Litigation serves multiple functions beyond the orders at the end of each case. Litigation also creates a written record of facts, how each party represents an argument and how the argument is interpreted by the courts. Often, just the written record can be useful to educate lawmakers and the public.

“Updating” litigation for our readers is not an easy task. Some of our readers are experienced advocates and some are very new to the issue. So deciding how to “talk to you” becomes a complicated subject… about a complicated subject.

This piece is intended to give you an overview of some of what is on our desks now and a bit about what to expect. Over the next few weeks we will bring you in-depth pieces on multiple cases active in the courts. Filing the first briefs and motions (when the public is usually well aware of the case) is only the first step. A flurry of briefs are filed in each case, the release of documents (often called “Discovery”) is another part of the process that is a back-and-forth argument. Then, the first briefs are filed for judgment on the issues and another flurry of briefing. Litigation involves a lot of “heavy-lifting” so to speak. 

Let’s start with one of the cases filed this summer against the lack of enforceable welfare standard as well as the failure of BLM to disclose any document or data to prove their existing NEPA (the underlying paperwork to justify the roundup) was adequate and First Amendment issues: Antelope.

During this roundup exceedingly large numbers of wild horses were dying while BLM insisted that roundups in blistering heat and during (what the data actually demonstrates) foaling season in this area was “ok.” We have been trying for years and years to get BLM to craft a data-based foaling season and stop using an assertion that involves a native herd in the midwest as “factual data” representing all herds. We have been trying to present things like Heat Index and Air Quality Indexes as “standard veterinary practice” that BLM needs to take into account for a long time (and the increased death rate that correlates), through every channel, to no avail.

When a stallion we knew named “Sunshine Man” died on the first day of the Heat Index rise we warned BLM about, we had been told we could only talk to public affairs while other groups  (that will apply for grants, etc.) are given meeting after meeting … we had no choice but to file litigation and make a fast motion to try to stop what was happening. (In our in-depth piece we will share some of the case, the hearing transcript and more).

You can read the complaint here. 

BLM filed their Motion to Dismiss on October 23. We are currently working on our opposition. These briefs must be filed and then the court decides which parts of a case can move forward into what the public usually references as Discovery. (BLM approved removal of thousands more wild horses in this area over the next 3 years. We need to make sure that what happened this summer does not happen again.)

As you can see, the case to gain enforceable welfare rules, disclosure of data before a roundup and for BLM to stop playing games with public access is still in the first half (if you break down lawsuits like a football game, we are in the second quarter).

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Pancake is a complex in central NV where we have been fighting habitat loss and fragmentation and a failure to create a management plan to protect the herd and habitat for a long time. 

Many of you became familiar with the area after a colt snapped its leg on the first day of the roundup where BLM plowed ahead without waiting for a decision on a Stay (WHE filed) in the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). BLM failed to create an actual management plan and instead crafted another ten-year Gather Environmental Assessment (EA) that does not allow public input beyond removal and a mashup of fertility control from PZP/GonaCon vaccines to burning oviducts of mares closed. Another court already determined these ten-year removal plans are “likely” illegal. We need the courts to make that determination clearly.

Once the tragic and horrific incident occurred, Pancake had the attention of the nation. Partners came forward to help us jump the case up from the IBLA into federal court. Dina Titus (D-NV) introduced legislation that has been reintroduced to STOP the use of helicopters during roundups again this session.

You can read the Complaint HERE.

This case has survived the BLM Motion to Dismiss, arguments have taken place on Discovery and we have moved into the final quarter. Our Motion for Summary Judgement was filed on August 10, 2023. So you can see how often we are really busy filing briefs in numerous cases (as this filing overlapped briefing in both Antelope above and land use court filings from Idaho to New Mexico) while on range documenting roundups, doing field work and trying to keep up with social media so the public understands we are still active.

BLM filed their opposition to our motion on October 11. Our opposition to BLM’s motion is due mid-month and then BLM’s reply is due mid-December.

BLM approved roundups of wild horses in this area for the next 8 years. We need to make sure what happened, does not happen again.

This case should see a conclusion near the beginning of the new year.

A lack of data, science, actual management planning and transparency is a real problem throughout BLM’s on-range program. When it comes to “complexes” where BLM lumps numerous Herd Management Areas (HMA) that are actively managed for both wild horses and wild burros and hundreds of thousands of acres of territory designated for their use, but has taken away (Herd Area or HA), the problems get even worse. 

The Blue Wing Complex Gather-EA totals approximately 2,283,300 acres in size, with about 1 million acres identified as “checkerboard.” The Gather-EA encompasses five Herd Management Areas (HMAs), four Herd Areas (HAs), and non-HMA areas where wild horses and burros (WH&Bs) migrate back and forth (BLM failed to recognize these areas where horses and burros were “presently found” as the 1971 Act decreed and simply denotes the movement to justify low population numbers without inbreeding) . The HMAs consist of: Kamma Mountains, Seven Troughs Range, Lava Beds, Blue Wing Mountains, and Shawave. Antelope Range, Selenite Range, Trinity Range, and Truckee Range (not managed or “zeroed out” primarily due to checkerboard and other industry conflicts). BLM says the 2 million acre area can sustain a range of 333-553 wild horses and 55-90 wild burros.

Even though the “data” and “science” used in the EA was already outdated (and treats burros like horses; including reproductive rates) BLM refused to update the ten-year removal plan that courts have already stated are likely illegal. Once begun, BLM hid capture, transport, temporary holding of burros and then shipped them off to a facility that is closed to the public where over 30 died in weeks from capture stress without ever being seen by any member of the public.

WHE and CANA filed litigation. You can see the Complaint HERE. 

BLM approved to removal of horses and burros in this area for another 4 years. We need to make sure what happened, does not happen again.

This case has just made it through arguments on discovery and the final briefing schedule was set on September 27. We expect this case to come to a conclusion in summer 2024.

Stone Cabin/Saulsbury, 23

Sometimes things get really complicated. WHE filed an Appeal in May of the ten-year removal/fertility control plan BLM approved for Stone Cabin/Saulsbury. The ranchers have now filed in federal court to force BLM to do a removal before the lower court adjudicates our issues. 

Right now, we are in the process of jumping our case up to federal court so that BLM does not create another backdoor deal with livestock, running over the issues raised by wild horse advocacy and failing the wild horses once again.

We will post the filing soon. 

Many of you will remember the horrific roundups at Eagle (mare run while she apparently aborted) and Silver King (where the first case to protect the public right to view roundups was born).

BLM immediately crafted one of the largest and most convoluted livestock grazing “gift” plans in this same area back in 2020 called “Wilson Creek.”The evaluation area West of Highway 93 makes up 35% of the Silver King HMA (formerly called Dry Lake, Highland Ridge and Rattlesnake)… The evaluation area East of Highway 93 makes up 76% of the Eagle HMA (formerly called Wilson Creek and Deer Lodge Canyon)… The Evaluation area in Utah (U-4) makes up 56% of the Chokecherry HMA..”

This case has been active but awaiting the courts decision on how to move forward after the court had to break it down into pieces, something BLM should have done and at the heart of our argument. Last month, the courts have made a decision allowing our arguments to remain after BLM tried to get us (WLD and WHE) booted out and briefing is resuming.

The battle at Alvord also continues. Many of you remember the groundbreaking ruling when, for the first time in 50 years, a livestock grazing plan in the Alvord was halted. BLM released another plan for that area and WHE and WLD jumped back in the fight. This case is in the Discovery phase now.

We have several active Appeals at various stages from opening briefs to attempting to find ways to mitigate (repair) some of the damages already caused.

As you can see, we may not be very visible on social media right now… but we are deep in the fight for their lives.

Without your help, none of this work is possible. Our teams are in the field and deep in the fight to protect and preserve our wild ones. 

We have a dollar-for-dollar match of up to 10K through November and a generous supporter has doubled the challenge! 
From now through Giving Tuesday, you can TRIPLE your impact and help us meet this important end-of-year goal of 20K!

There are many ways to support the work of WHE from direct contribution, stock donations and even while you shop. More HERE.


Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education