FoA’s victory for Oregon’s wild horses shows BLM broke the law

In August of 2016, the Bureau of Land Management snatched 150 wild horses from within and adjacent to the Three Fingers Herd Management Area in Malheur, Oregon, after a brush fire swept through the northern portion of the area. The horses were then subjected to a life of imprisonment at the Wild Horse Corral facility in Burns.

They thought they could say it was “an emergency action” and avoid the National Environmental Protection Act. 

But Friends of Animals was watching, in April of 2017 achieved a significant victory for wild horses in Oregon and throughout the nation.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ruled that the Bureau of Land Management violated federal law when it ordered the emergency roundup. Judge Simon agreed with FoA that BLM’s decision to permanently remove these wild horses was made without compliance with proper environmental analyses. Instead, BLM relied upon on outdated analysis and significantly exceeded what was required to protect the horses and the land from the immediate impact of the fire.

“BLM’s mistreatment of the Three Fingers Wild Horses is part of a troubling trend in wild horse roundups—the declaring of an ‘emergency’ to allow permanent removal of horses without complying with federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act,” says Michael Harris, FoA’s Wildlife Law Program Director.

While this is a tremendous victory, Friends of Animals will not be satisfied until the wild horses at the Wild Horse Corral are returned to the Three Fingers HMA Area since we saw with our own eyes the great abundance of appropriate forage that has sprung up throughout the HMA due to record-breaking precipitation that the area received last year.

In fact, wildlife ecologist Craig Downer, who accompanied FoA on a trip to Oregon last spring and has visited more than 70 HMAS throughout his career, noted that “he had never seen better vegetation for wild horses,” a remarkable observation.

Of course, such healthy vegetation does not go unnoticed by ranchers, who BLM treats as clients. During a surveillance flight and while driving on passable roads, Downer observed more than a thousand cattle dispersed over the great majority of the HMA, reaping the benefits of the bumper-crop year in terms of forage while the wild horses who had been removed rot in the Wild Horse Corral.

FoA will continue to challenge BLM’s mismanagement of wild horses and its ongoing scheme of providing illegitimate justifications to remove wild horses from their legally protected homes. The BLM Burns District Office thinks the best place to see wild horses in Oregon is at the Wild Horse Corral holding prison, and that’s something everyone should agree is appalling.

 

Friends of Animals wins victory for Idaho’s beloved wild horses

Following a legal challenge from the international non-profit animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew its Oct. 26, 2017 decision to roundup approximately 150 wild horses from the Challis Herd Management Area in Custer County, Idaho. The BLM planned to permanently remove at least 50 of them and to forcibly drug the mares with the fertility pesticide PZP.

“Without the help of Friends of Animals, it is likely that BLM would be rounding up the wild horses of Challis HMA at this very moment,” said Michael Harris, Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program Director. “Many of the horses would be facing a life of captivity while others would be subject to being dosed with an unproven and unsafe fertility control drug. But, because of our work, BLM has withdrawn its decision.”

The BLM tried to get away with not allowing the public to provide comment during the decision-making process, which is a violation of the National Environmental Protection Act.

“It seems it is becoming routine for BLM to seek to cut corners and knowingly violate the law when it comes to protecting America’s wild horses,” Harris said. “This atrocious behavior will not stand under the watchful eyes of Friends of Animals.

“This is a victory for wild horses and for Friends of Animals. BLM needs to know that its actions concerning wild horses will be heavily scrutinized by Friends of Animals and its members. If BLM continues to violate the law, Friends of Animals will be there to stop it.”

The Challis HMA, which is bordered by Salmon, Herd and Road Creeks, encompasses more than 154,000 acres of public land, but BLM only allows a measly 185 to 253 horses to live in this vast area. Despite a recent count of only 244 wild horses, BLM decided to take action to further reduce the population.

However, the BLM, which treats ranchers as clients, allows 2,239 cattle to graze in nearby allotments.

 

Friends of Animals wins victory for northwest Colorado wild horses

Friends of Animals won a battle with the Bureau of Land Management to protect wild horses in northwest Colorado. In September of 2017, the BLM agreed not to undertake any further removals of wild horses without first completing additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Friends of Animals has taken away what amounted to a blank check to perform roundups without any environmental review or public notice and we will push to ensure that the BLM considers the true devastating impacts of wild horse roundups before it goes back to roundup horses again,” said Jennifer Best, assistant legal director for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “We are committed to fighting for these horses every step of the way.”

Friends of Animals initiated its lawsuit back in 2015 after a violent, frightening, inhumane helicopter roundup of up to 167 wild horses from the West Douglas Herd Area was already underway. BLM’s initial decision included language indicating that BLM could come back and roundup more horses for several years as part of its extinction plan. “This is significant because under the original decision, BLM had authorized round-ups as needed over the next five years,” said Michael Harris, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program.

The BLM has never really publicly examined the emotional, physical or social impacts to wild horses subjected to helicopter roundups on federal public lands. The intricate physiological events that occur during a wild horses fight or flight reaction to a helicopter round up suggest that these are assaults against wild horses and are not humane as the BLM maintains, and Friends of Animals believes this violates the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

With a victory for Rocky Hill wild horse herd, FoA stops BLM, HSUS from turning Nevada’s public lands into zoo-like settings

Following a lawsuit filed by international animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, in May of 2017, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cancelled its five-year remote darting program that would have forcibly drugged Nevada’s Rocky Hill wild horses with fertility control.

“This is a significant victory for Nevada’s wild horses because it was a five-year fertility control plan,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “What is ignored by the pro-fertility control community is that wild horses darted with PZP to inhibit their ability to naturally reproduce aren’t really, well, wild anymore.

“The solution to any perceived wild horse crisis in Nevada is not to simply prescribe a drug. If wild horses, along with other wild animals in the West, are to be saved, we must change the unsustainable method of land use planning that we have created for our public lands. Wild horses and other wildlife deserve their own lands to call home.”

Since the BLM caters to the cattle and sheep ranching industry, it has created an artificially low appropriate management level for the Rocky Hills Herd Management Area (HMA). A measly 86-143 wild horses are deemed appropriate for the HMA , which consists of 83,988 acres.

If that’s not staggering enough, the bombshell in this case is that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which claims to advocate for the protection of wild horses and burros, intervened in Friends of Animals’ original appeal and petition to suspend BLM’s Aug. 2016 decision on behalf of the BLM, showing its true colors—that one of the nation’s wealthiest animal charities buys into the myth perpetuated by cattle and sheep ranchers that there are too many wild horses on federal public lands.

HSUS is the registrant of the fertility control drugs PZP and ZonaStat-H. However when HSUS obtained EPA registration, the organization never provided evidence that the birth control doesn’t have negative side effects…it just provided information about its efficacy and actually requested waivers for most of the studies ordinarily required from an applicant seeking pesticide registration—including a toxicity study, ecological effects and environmental fate guideline study.

The majority of research submitted by HSUS did not consider the biological, social and behavioral effects the drug can have on wild horses. More recent research has demonstrated repeated applications of PZP can cause physical damage to treated mares; it is not completely reversible; it can increase mortality in foals post-PZP effectiveness; and it interferes with herd cohesion, which is critical to the overall health of wild horses. In addition, preventing mares from producing foals can create a genetic bottleneck that may ultimately extinguish the species as a whole.

No public comment or notice was given before the BLM’s decision about the Rocky Hills HMA was made. Furthermore, the BLM did not prepare a project-specific Environmental Assessment (EA) to inform this decision; instead, BLM completed a Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA), in which it concluded that the Fertility Control Darting Project “is essentially similar to an

alternative analyzed in the prior National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) documents,” and the effects of the Project “are similar to those disclosed” in the 2010 Callaghan Complex EA, so no further NEPA analysis was necessary.”

“We were repulsed from the beginning that HSUS would condone BLM’s failure to comply with federal law, specifically NEPA,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “But bolstered by this victory, FoA marches on in its fight to keep the wild in wilderness and to make sure our federal public lands do not become zoo-like settings.”

 

FoA’s court battle saves more than 2,000 of Wyoming’s wild horses 

In March 2017, Friends of Animals (FoA) obtained another remarkable victory for wild horses—the organization challenged one of the largest wild horse roundups in Wyoming’s Red Desert Complex and won.

In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) authorized the roundup and removal of 2,096 wild horses from the Lost Creek, Stewart Creek, Antelope Hills, Crooks Mountain and Green Mountain Herd Management Areas in south central and central Wyoming. The agency’s decision also allowed the forced drugging with fertility control of some mares to be released back to the HMAs.

“Friends of Animals challenged the agency’s decision because, among other things, BLM failed to consider the impact of its decision on the unique Iberian genotype of these wild horse herds,” said Jennifer Best, associate attorney for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “Our lawsuit argued that BLM had committed to preserve this genotype and was legally required to consider how its decision would impact these distinct wild horses.”

The Court vacated and remanded BLM’s decision, meaning BLM cannot remove these horses until it goes back to analyze the potential impact of roundups on the special genotype of these horses and issues a new decision.

“BLM has committed in its Range Management Plans to engage in management practices, monitoring and analyses to help assure a sufficient prevalence of these historically important breeds,” noted Judge Nancy Freudenthal. “BLM should not ignore such promises during periodic gathers, risking the loss of significant genetic resources.”

“This case is part of FoA’s ongoing effort to ensure BLM follows through with its commitments to the public and to ensure that all wild animals receive the ethical consideration they deserve,” Best said. “These roundups would have separated many wild horses from their close-knit families and homes on the range, caused significant stress and likely would have resulted in some wild horse deaths.”

Federal judge orders BLM to provide FoA info about Oregon wild horses

In March of 2017, a federal judge in Portland, Oregon, granted a request by Friends of Animals (FoA) to undertake questioning of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials in the form of interrogatories and depositions regarding an “emergency removal” the agency undertook on the Three Fingers Horse Management Area (HMA) in eastern Oregon.

As a result of a brush fire that impacted the northern portion of this HMA, BLM removed 150 horses without complying with federal law, and refused any request by FoA to put the horses back now that the land is recovering from the fire.

This is a huge first step toward stopping BLM from claiming that emergency situations require that horses be permanently removed from the wild. FoA intends to demonstrate that BLM can use less permanent and severe means of protecting horses from threats—measures that will keep horses wild.

Specifically, the judge has ordered BLM to comply with requests from FoA to determine whether: (1) the removed horses can be returned to the Three Fingers HMA after post-fire restoration has been completed; (2) unburned portions of the HMA can support additional horses; (3) fencing is a viable alternative to removal to protect the fire-damaged areas from wild horses; and (4) supplemental food and water can be provided to keep wild horses from returning to the fire damaged areas.

When it comes to wild horses on Western public lands, BLM has a woeful history of complying with federal laws intended to protect these amazing animals. Since FoA commenced a legal campaign in January 2015 to protect America’s wild horses, BLM has engaged in dozens of illegal roundups, resulting in thousands of horses being violently removed from the wild and placed in BLM-run detention centers. Through legal action, FoA has successfully stopped such roundups in Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana, and we have additional lawsuits making way through the federal courts involving horses in Colorado, Utah and Oregon. Sadly, each time we prevail in court, BLM comes up with a new way to avoid complying with the federal Free-roaming, Wild Horse and Burro Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The most widely-used method of avoiding these laws is through the use of so-called “Emergency Action.” Since summer of 2016, BLM has engaged in numerous wild horse round-ups by claiming some sort of imminent threat to the horses, usually due to the horses coming to close to roads or suffering from lack of food. While in some cases risks are present to the horses, the fact of the matter is that BLM is merely using the situation as an excuse to permanently remove horses from the land without complying with the law.

How do we know this? Because in each and every case that BLM has declared an “emergency” it the agency has not once considered any solution short of permanent removal. FoA has repeatedly asked BLM why it cannot take less drastic measures to protect the horses, such as providing supplemental food, using fencing to protect the horses, or even using temporary removals until the emergency is abated. Every time BLM refuses to consider any option short of permanently subjecting the horses to confinement in dreadful holding facilities.

FoA is happy to announce that we are a step closer to ending this illegal practice by BLM.

 

Gruesome wild mare sterilization research project halted

In September of 2016, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew its decision to conduct unnecessary, gruesome mare sterilization research on 225 wild mares, including at least 100 pregnant mares, imprisoned at the Wild Horse Corral Facility in Oregon after Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit on Aug. 3, 2016. The BLM’s decision was formally vacated by the Interior Board of Land Appeals Sept. 9. Despite extending its public comment period on this so-called research, and receiving thousands of comments in opposition of it, the BLM, in its eagerness to appease cattle and sheep ranchers who despise wild horses, had approved of the project. What was so appalling about this case is BLM made the decision despite acknowledging in its 2016 Environmental Assessment that the three methods of sterilization—oviarectomy via colpotomy; tubal litigation and laser ablation—would likely cause death or necessary euthanasia and that the sterilization procedures would not stop unless the major complication rate for any gestational stage group exceeded 20 percent. In no uncertain terms, that meant that the BLM could destroy, or kill, up to 45 wild horses before stopping the experiments.

 

Wyoming wild horses protected

In December of 2014, the governor of the state of Wyoming, Matt Mead, tried to sue the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to force the agency to round up hundreds of wild horses from public land in the state, and in October of 2015, a federal appeals court basically told him to pound sand by dismissing the lawsuit. Friends of Animals intervened in the case to support BLM’s decision to reject the governor’s request, and while we see this as a positive outcome, we are still appalled and concerned by the anti-wild horse attitude of the governor and the state of Wyoming, which are beholden to cattle and sheep ranchers.

 

 

 

Montana’s beloved Pryor Mountain Herd gets reprieve

The beloved Pryor Mountain wild horses of Montana, the last wild horse herd in the state, got a reprieve from being assaulted by Bureau of Land Management roundups following Friends of Animals’ victory in July of 2016. U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters ruled in favor of Friends of Animals’ in a lawsuit we brought against the agency last year when it announced the round-up and permanent removal of 20 young wild horses between the ages of 1 and 3 in the Pryor Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA) and the continual removal of six to 12 wild horses on an annual basis. Judge Watters’ decision recognizes that BLM was removing wild horses from the Pryor Mountains before considering a reasonable alternative—determining what the appropriate population for the area is and whether the range could potentially support more wild horses. Judge Waters also ruled in Friends of Animals’ favor that BLM could not ignore its promise to the public to do a more thorough analysis of the Appropriate Management Level (AML) before removing wild horses.

 

FoA stops forced drugging of Nevada’s Pine Nut Herd, twice

Because of pressure from Friends of Animals and the threat of legal action, in May of 2016 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) revoked its April 3, 2014 Decision Record for its misguided Fish Springs Wild Horses PZP Pilot Project. This decision had authorized a public-private partnership with the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates to forcibly drug mares of the beloved Pine Nut Herd with the fertility control pesticide PZP.

When FoA learned the project was underway, it sprang into action because the project suffered the same legal deficiencies Judge Larry R. Hicks’ found last year with the agency’s 2014 removal and fertility control plan.

“We are extremely happy to have put a stop to the forced drugging of Pine Nut mares with the fertility control pesticide PZP for a second time,” said FoA President Priscilla Feral. “Still, it is appalling that BLM would go to such efforts to not only avoid compliance with the law, but to hide from the public that PZP has long-term, negative impacts to the lives of wild horses.”

“There are so many problems with BLM’s decision to recommend the 2014 Pilot Project that it is difficult to know where to start,” said Michael Harris, FoA’s Wildlife Law Program director. Most importantly, Harris says, the decision to arm local landowners with long rifles and PZP-filled darts to go after Pine Nut mares who might wander from the designated Herd Management Area onto private lands near Fish Springs directly conflicts with a 2015 court decision aimed at limiting management actions directed at the Pine Nut wild horses until BLM complies with federal law.

That decision was issued in February 2015 in an action brought by FoA challenging BLM’s Dec. 19, 2014 decision to round-up and remove approximately 332 Pine Nut wild horses and to PZP all mares one-year of age and older.

Salt River wild horses to remain free

Because of ongoing Friends of Animals’ litigation (other groups bailed and dropped their lawsuits), the U.S. Forest Service filed a declaration on Dec. 14, 2015 with the court to withdraw its July 31, 2015 notice, which classified Salt River wild horses in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona as “unauthorized livestock” and authorized their “impoundment” so they could be auctioned off, sold privately or disposed of. Our Wildlife Law Program Director Michael Harris said about the case: “Friends of Animals is able to dismiss this case because we have been able to achieve a legally binding withdrawal of the roundup notice. This is huge. We feel that it was important that it was legally binding because we wanted to make sure that Friends of Animals, and our members, could rest easy that the U.S. Forest Service wasn’t just going to go in at another time and round these animals up under that notice.” FoA had filed a lawsuit in August of 2015 against the U.S. Forest Service to stop the round-up and permanent removal of wild horses in Tonto National Forest in Arizona.