2018 Wild Horse Litigation


Friends of Animals sues BLM over Zinke’s wild horse slaughter policy

Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit Aug. 9, 2018, in the U.S. District Court in Oregon challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s 2018 Wild Horse Sale Policy, which was quietly issued on May 25 to get around a Congressional ban on slaughter.

The policy, which wasn’t made public until July 20, allows buyers to purchase 24 horses at a time with no questions asked.

“The policy removes many of the procedural safeguards put in place to prevent the sale of wild horses to individuals who seek to resell them to slaughter,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program. “A vast majority of Americans—including Congress—believe that wild horses should not be wantonly slaughtered by BLM. But in issuing an order this summer for BLM to expedite the sale of wild horses to third parties by the truck load, Interior Secretary Zinke is putting in place his own version of a slaughter plan regardless of the views of Congress and the public.” 

Prior to the 2018 Wild Horse Policy, a buyer could only purchase four wild horses or burros in a six-month period. The policy was implemented in 2013 after it was discovered that a Colorado livestock buyer sent more than 1,700 mustangs to slaughter.

In its lawsuit, FoA states that in issuing the policy, BLM broke the law because such a policy is subject to notice and public comment; it is an arbitrary and capricious reversal of BLM’s past policies; and it violates the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which specifies that “appropriations herein made shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of the BLM or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”

Harris explained that the new policy also undermines FoA’s ongoing efforts to force BLM to consider returning some wild horses to the Three Fingers Herd Management in eastern Oregon. FoA successfully challenged a 2016 emergency roundup decision where horses were completely removed from one pasture in the HMA.

“We are currently seeking an order from this court that would direct BLM to consider the environmental impacts associated with that decision, and to consider whether mitigation would necessitate return of some of the removed horses,” Harris said. “However, it can often take several years before removed horses can be returned after an emergency removal. The 2018 Wild Horse Sale Policy requires Oregon BLM officials to sell off the Three Finger wild horses as quickly as possible, thus potentially undermining any relief FoA can obtain in that action.”


FoA challenges FWS for not doing enough to protect Pryor Mountain wild horses

Friends of Animals is challenging U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s rejection of our petition to list the Pryor Mountain wild horses, a distinct population of horses who reside in Montana and Wyoming, under the Endangered Species Act, and the recent rule that inhibits the public’s ability to protect threatened and endangered species.

In a lawsuit filed April 4, 2018, in U.S. District Court in Montana, FoA is asking that FWS actually issue a 90-day finding as required.

“The Endangered Species Act requires the government to consider our petition and make an initial decision on it within 90 days,” said Jennifer Best, associate attorney for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “However, a new rule regarding the petition process that went into effect on Oct. 27, 2016, chips away at the Endangered Species Act by requiring the public to submit petitions to state agencies first, delaying the timeline and standards for listing threatened or endangered species. FWS relied on this new rule to reject Friends of Animals’ petition to list the Pryor Mountain wild horses.”

FoA knows from past experience that states are generally more concerned about stakeholders with economic interests in destroying habitat than protecting species and do not want to deal with federally protected species.

“Time is running for the Pryor Mountain wild horses, a distinct population segment essential for preserving the Old Spanish genetic lineage of wild horses,” Best said. “They are subject to removal to reach the Bureau of Land Management’s designated appropriate management level of the herd. But an AML set at 90 to 120 horses is far below what is necessary for a minimum viable population, let alone to preserve the herd’s unique genetic lineage.”

FoA submitted its petition on June 12, 2017. It states that the Pryor Mountain mustangs’ lineage can be traced back to ancient horses who first evolved in North America and Eurasia, but are thought to have temporarily gone extinct following the last Ice Age, before being reintroduced by Spanish settlers.

The Old Spanish genetic lineage has since been lost in Spain due to domestic breeding.

The Pryor Mountain Mustangs are smaller than most wild horses in North America, standing between 13.2 and 14.3 hands. The horses have a unique conformation, reflecting their Spanish heritage, with a narrow but deep chest, distinct withers, short back and sloping croup with a low-set tail.


Friends of Animals files lawsuit to save Nevada’s wild horses from roundups, castration

Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit Jan. 25, 2018, to halt the Bureau of Land Management’s Ten-Year Wild Horse Roundup Decision that authorizes rounding up and permanently removing approximately 9,525 wild horses from Antelope and Triple B wild horse complexes in Nevada. The plan also authorizes years of further roundups, forcibly drugging mares with fertility control and castrating stallions, some of whom will be returned to the range.

“This is the definition of animal cruelty,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “Not only could castration be a death sentence because of the risk of hemorrhaging and infection, for the horses who do survive, they will be robbed of their natural behaviors, putting them at a disadvantage on the range in terms of survival. These are native wild animals, not domesticated dogs and cats.”

Experts in wild horse behavior have reported that castrated stallions will be at risk of being ostracized and pushed off by other intact stallions and could even be inflicted with fatal injuries from aggressive encounters. A decrease in muscle mass, strength and bone density from castration will also make geldings more susceptible to disease and predation and could hinder their ability to traverse the harsh terrain and great distances they need to travel for food and water.

Their lack of potency would also lead to frustrated attempts at conception, social unrest and disruption, negatively affecting the overall fitness of each band of wild horses.

“It is imperative that Friends of Animals act now to challenge this unprecedented move by BLM,” said Jennifer Best, assistant legal director for Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 states that the BLM must protect and manage the land and animals in a thriving natural ecological balance. A natural ecological balance cannot be obtained by using fertility control on mares or castrating stallions, which cause unnatural social interactions and social disruption. Furthermore, BLM’s actions restrict the public’s right to be involved in decisions with a major impact on our public lands.”