Litigation

Horse hit with chopper

Our legal team works in many avenues as we engage wild horse and burro management. From crafting comments on proposed action to taking action in the federal court system, our team is always busy.

The list below highlights some of the actions taken by WHE and our team:

2009:

  • Our team members filed litigation to expose the slaughter pipeline connection to the Sheldon wild horses managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

2010:

  • Litigation filed: Tuscarora (now called simply “Owyhee Complex.” Won against closure of public lands during capture of wild horses and defended against the running of new born foals in July during a purported drought.
  • Litigation: Silver King case filed addressing First Amendment violations. Case ran up and down the court system for 5 years and brought landmark rulings used in civil rights, and wild horse, cases nationwide. Opened roundups to daily observation and required visitation to closed facilities.

2011: 

  • Litigation: Triple B (humane care case). First case brought against abuse at roundups in history. Shut down operations and investigation begun.
  • First Amendment case moves into the Appeals court. 15 news organizations nationwide join WHE on Ninth Circuit Filing.

2012:

  • Litigation: Jackson Mountain. Won against BLM using a small scale emergency, like drought in a small section of an HMA, to force a large scale operation throughout an HMA.
  • Litigation: First Amendment. Won in the Ninth Circuit setting a massive precedent that became a published opinion.
  • Litigation: Triple B. Won Preliminary injunction against inappropriate/abusive roundups.
  • Litigation: Won against the “mootness doctrine” that stopped past litigation against BLM roundups to move beyond the end of an operation; proving underlying issues and conduct was likely to repeat.

2013:

  • Litigation: Owyhee Complex. Defended wild horses against inhumane treatment and unjustified removal. Won specific language that led to actualization of a humane handling policy.
  • Litigation: Snowstorm. Successfully defended the HMA from an unjustified removal.
  • Litigation: Triple B. Bait trap operation with no public access. Won access to observe.
  • Litigation: McDermitt Roundup. WHE files two actions; One against BLM showing many of the horses are Owyhee horses caught in the tribal roundup. The other action was part of a group effort to stop unbranded horses from being sold at auction for slaughter alleging the agreement with the federal agencies and the tribe was not valid. Won a withdrawal of USFS and BLM from the agreement and unbranded horses were rescued.
  • Litigation: Sheldon USFWS. Litigation filed to hold USFWS accountable to America’s War Horse, the Sheldon. USFWS paid known kill buyers to take Sheldon horses. Won and removed notorious kill buyer Stan Palmer from the roster.
  • Litigation: First Amendment back in Reno district court. WHE take it back to the Ninth Circuit with 15 news organizations nationwide filing a supporting brief. Judge grants our founder, Laura Leigh, expert witness status to testify. Case successful in the Ninth Circuit.

2014:

  • Litigation: NACO, NV counties file suit against BLM NV to remove and even kill wild horses. In less than 30 days WHE were on file to stop them. WON, case was illegal under law as it was a programmatic challenge and not a challenge to a specific action.
  • Litigation: Owyhee. The Judge allowed WHE to strengthen our case against a lack of data in the BLM WHB program based on the validation of our claims by the National Academy of Sciences. BLM conceded and agreed to create management planning (still pending).
  • Legal: Teams engaged to enforce BLM policy on trespass livestock in wild horse HMA.
  • Litigation: Sheldon moves into last phase of zeroing out. Won removal of known kill-buyers from the roster.
  • Litigation: Ninth Circuit court ordered mediation opens closed facility to tours and creates a daily access policy to roundups.

2015: 

  • Litigation: Fish Creek. Counties and Cattleman file litigation (IBLA) to stop fertility control/data program and wild horses shipped by BLM to holding facility instead of released. WON, wild horses returned to the range.
  • Litigation: Argenta. Even though no wild horses are present in the area issues of range degradation by livestock and “closed door meetings” are occurring to keep livestock on the range in severe drought. Over $1 million in tax payer money was spent on this one issue by the federal government. WHE joined WildLands Defense in legal action.
  • Legal: McDermitt. BLM enters back into an agreement with USFWS and tribal authorities and a removal is scheduled that will send hundreds of wild horses to slaughter. Our field work, including aerial surveys, was used in our legal efforts. We showed that this was not justified and the horses in the target zone were in fact federally protected wild horses. The operation was cancelled.
  • Litigation: Pershing County. A programmatic legal action was filed against BLM to remove wild horses. Our range documentation was the basis for a legal action to intervene.
  • Legal: Our litigation and continued efforts toward gaining a humane handling bear fruit. A policy is included in all roundup contracts nationwide and enters into a two year beta test phase.

2017:

  • Litigation: FOIA  addressing cronyism, threats, misuse of funding. Case turned over to House (Congress) team.
  • Congressional testimony: House Investigative team, OIG: Intensive engagement on escalating extremism on public lands.
  • Congressional testimony: House Investigative team, OIG: Intensive engagement on escalating trespass livestock on public lands.
  • Litigation: Gold Bar (mining) addressing existing and recognized flaws in BLM HMA boundary lines as habitat impacts from mining threaten to increase pressure on herds. Litigation created a pathway for continued action should wild horses be targeted for removal.

2018: 

  • Litigation against Grazing decisions at Eagle and Silver King HMAs (IBLA). Outcome: BLM withdrew project.
  • Legal action to maintain access to BLM “private” holding facilities if they are used as intake for wild horses from the range. Status: specific incident successful.

2019:

  • Our groundbreaking First Amendment litigation was the legal key used to stop spay experiments on wild horses in Oregon.
  • Participated in legal action against dangerous water law precedent ant the Mt Hope mine. Status: Permit withdrawn.
  • Filed Ethics Complaint against (former) Deputy Director of BLM, Brian Steed. Status: Steed was among those that left BLM under a flurry of Ethics Complaints.
  • Filed Ethics Complaint with Office of Inspector General against William Perry Pendly, BLM’s new Deputy Director. Status: A federal judge found Pendley’s tenure as “acting Director” illegal and he no longer occupies that position.

2020:

  • Litigation: Defended wild horses from massive loss of water in the Antelope Complex due to mine expansion (Joined environmental coalition). Outcome, successful.
  • Litigation: Defended wild horses from massive oil and gas sale leases. in HMAs. Outcome: parcels withdrawn.
  • Litigation: Defending wild horses from experimental spaying in Utah. Status: spay plan abandoned by BLM, legal action still active against decision process.
  • Legal: Requested all proposed plans for spay wild horses undergo a NEPA review. Status: Spay plan cancelled.

2021:

  • Litigation: Defending wild horses in the Silver King/Eagle/Choke Cherry complex from massive livestock grazing scheme. Partnered with WildLands Defense (IBLA). Status: active
  • Litigation: Livestock in the Argenta allotments. Partnered with WildLands Defense (IBLA). Status: active
  • Litigation update: Defending wild horses from experimental spaying in Utah. Status: spay plan abandoned by BLM, legal action still active against decision process. Status: active
  • Litigation: Defending wild horses as BLM makes deals with livestock permittees for more fencing and livestock at Desatoya. Status: active
  • Litigation: To protect Pancake complex from mass removals and a mishmash of fertility control including sterilization. Status: active
  • Filed against plan to keep wild horses at the absurdly low population level while prohibiting public input on actual management that included population level, forage allocation, etc. at Sand Wash Basin. Status: active

Will update as time allows.

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