It’s National Horse Day, and while the Associated Press is reporting that two House committee chairmen are trying to put the brakes on money for a new Trump administration proposal to accelerate the capture of 130,000 wild horses across the West over the next 10 years, we know our work protecting wild horses is far from over. Their letter urges congressional members working to reconcile the House-Senate differences to limit any spending on the pilot program to $6 million. The pilot program is a betrayal by so-called wild horse advocates who are in bed with the meat industry. It is management for extinction and putting any money toward it is a step toward eradicating these iconic animals from our public lands.
Please consider a donation to support our legal efforts to protect wild horses by clicking the button below. Here are some highlights of our recent advocacy and legal victories.
Victory! BLM commits to process to return Oregon’s wild horses to the range
Earlier this year the Bureau of Land Management released a new Decision Record committing to a process to return wild horses back to the Warms Springs herd management area (HMA) in Oregon— delivering a rare victory to wild horses.
In October of 2018, Friends of Animals (FoA) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to move forward with its Warm Springs’ mare sterilization experiment and 10-year management plan. At the same time, other wild horse advocates sued to stop the mare sterilization experiment.
The sterilization experiment—which was so egregious Colorado State University (CSU) withdrew from it in August of 2018—authorized hundreds of horses in the Warm Springs HMA to be ripped from their families and homes on federal public lands so BLM could research the effects of spaying wild horse mares by returning some of them to the range.
While the court did stop the mare sterilization experiment from moving forward, BLM was still able to proceed with the roundup and rip 846 wild horses from their families and home on the range. At least 32 wild horses were killed during the roundup. To the best of FoA’s knowledge, the roundup resulted in the removal of essentially the entire population of wild horses from the Warm Springs HMA.
So BLM permanently removed 100% of the wild horse population from the Warm Springs HMA, leaving the range essentially void of these legally protected animals. Not only did BLM never have authority for such sweeping action, the Decision that approved the limited removal of horses has since been vacated, Friends of Animals stated in a more recent lawsuit.
“BLM has no authority to remove, hold, sell, or put up for adoption any of the horses that were removed from the Warm Springs HMA absent a valid record of decision.
As such, this court should find that BLM’s continued holding of horses is unlawful and direct the agency to issue further decisions in compliance with the law to ensure a viable wild horse and burro population in the Warm Springs HMA,” the FoA’s lawsuit said.
“It’s good news that the BLM has committed to a process in place to put wild horses back on the range. This settlement sets the right precedent for wild horses who have been unlawfully rounded up, and gives them a chance to return to their homes and flourish in their own way despite the stress and strain on their unique bonds that they’ve already endured,” said Michael Harris, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “FoA will continue to press BLM to return the horses to the range at a time that ensures their safety and their best chance at survival.”
This is no time for Congress to approve millions for PZP plan
In October a judge recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency reevaluate Friends of Animals’ legal petition requiring the agency to consider new scientific evidence demonstrating the need to cancel the registration of porcine zona pellucida (PZP) for population control of America’s wild horses and burros, which was issued to the Humane Society of the United States in 2012.
Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit against the EPA in 2016 for failing to respond to our request.
With this regulatory uncertainty, this is no time for Congress to approve millions of dollars on a plan that will rely upon use of a dangerous pesticide on horses. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill (FY2020 Interior Appropriations bill, S. 2580) that includes $35 million for the atrocious wild horse population control plan put forward by a coalition that betrayed wild horses back in April.
“This proposal, which is really a betrayal by so-called wild horse advocates who are in bed with the meat industry, is management for extinction and putting money toward it is a step toward eradicating these iconic animals from our public lands,” Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Furthermore, it is remarkable that that:
1. That HSUS and EPA continue to defend using a dangerous pesticide on wild horses.
2. That the Court found that EPA and BLM continue to ignore real scientific evidence that PZP may have negative impact on those horses long-term, including permanent sterility, the possible creation of populations of non-breeding wild horses and/or scientifically proven physiological, behavioral, demographic, and harmful genetic effects.
FoA files lawsuit against BLM for its assault on California’s wild horses
Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit in November against the Bureau of Land Management for its decision to reduce the size and slow the growth of California’s Twin Peaks wild horse herd. The 10-year plan calls for several detestable approaches, including rounding up by helicopter-drive trapping and bait-and-water trapping, as well as fertility control and castration to reduce the herd to the low end of its so-called appropriate management level of 448 wild horses on approximately 800,000 acres.
“The scope of this 10-year Decision is unprecedented in this area and authorizes rounding up and removing more than 80 percent of the wild horses from the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area as well as castrating an undisclosed number of stallions,” explained Jennifer Best, assistant legal director for Friends of Animals. “With these long-range plans, BLM is trying to avoid further scrutiny of its overall plan to zero out wild horse populations on public lands and Friends of Animals will not stand by and do nothing.”
Adding insult to injury, 1,060 cattle and 13,000 sheep are allowed to graze in the Twin Peaks grazing allotment.
“BLM keeps trying to paint wild horses as an abundant population that is damaging to our public lands, when the culprits are doomed cattle and sheep,” Best said. “This decision shows how BLM is once again putting the interest of ranchers ahead of a balanced ecosystem that includes wild horses and other wild animals.”
The 10-year decision was issued pursuant to a new rule that eliminates the opportunity for the public to review or comment on the BLM’s decisions. The changes not only drastically alter the way BLM is managing horses in the Twin Peaks area, they violate the law in several respects, the lawsuit states.
First, the decision violates the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act requirement that BLM make a determination that such animals are in excess before removing wild horses and burros, that removal is necessary and that such determination be based on current information; violates BLM’s obligations to conduct management activities at the minimal feasible level; and violates its obligations under NEPA to: (1) prepare an environmental impact statement, (2) consider reasonable alternatives, and (3) fully evaluate the impacts and alternatives to the proposed decisions.
Furthermore, the BLM issued the new rule in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act because it didn’t provide the public notice of the new rule before implementing it, solicit comments on the new rule as required by the APA or offer a reasonable explanation for the rule change.
“BLM’s decision thwarts public participation and puts BLM on a path to continually harass wild horses and burros behind closed doors for the next 10 years,” Best said. “Friends of Animals hopes the lawsuit puts an end to this criminal practice and holds BLM accountable to the public and to its legal obligation to protect America’s wild horses and burros.”
CSU withdraws from BLM plan to force Oregon’s wild horses into zoo-like setting
In August of 2018 Colorado State University (CSU) opted out of Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) latest grisly proposal to conduct a research project at Oregon’s Wild Horse Corral Facility to evaluate the “feasibility and safety” of spaying wild horse mares to slow population growth because of backlash from Friends of Animals and other animal advocacy groups.
“An important component of every research process is to engage in rigorous discussion and evaluation with our own experts as well as experts from outside of the university and listening to the concerns of the larger community as we bring these innovations forward,” said Dr. Alan Rudolph, vice president for Research at CSU, in a statement obtained by Friends of Animals. “After careful consideration of multiple factors during the 30-day public comment period for the Warm Springs, Oregon, mare spay project, Colorado State University is withdrawing our partnership on the surgical spaying of mares. The project is led by the Bureau of Land Management and USGS. The decision to withdraw was made with the support of our involved researchers.”
Friends of Animals is appalled by this proposed project because the BLM already knows that ovariectomies performed on female horses can result in a high frequency of complications and even death. Plus they fundamentally alter their free-roaming natural behaviors. The university’s action shows that experts don’t agree with BLM’s harmful plan.
“We applaud CSU’s decision to withdraw from this cruel and unnecessary sterilization experiment on the wild horses of Warm Springs HMA,” said Courtney McVean, attorney for Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program. “It remains unclear whether BLM will still go forward with the Ten-Year Management Plan that includes permanently removing a significant portion of the population and continuing roundups without public participation for 10 years, or if BLM will find another partner for this horrendous experiment. Rest assured, Friends of Animals will continue to pressure BLM to cease plans intended to capture and suppress the very nature of these wild horses and force Oregon’s wild horses into zoo-like setting.
If this project moves forward, close to all of the approximately 800 wild horses in the Warm Springs Herd Management Area (HMA) would be ripped from their families and their homes on federal public lands this fall.
Of those rounded up, 200 would be selected to return to the range. The selected horses would be divided into two groups of 100 (a control group and a treatment group). Each group would
consist of 50 males and 50 females, and about 60 percent of the mares in the treatment group would be spayed.
“The proposed study shows BLM’s complete disregard for the health and wellbeing of wild horses in our nation. CSU made the right decision to opt out of this study. We hope it means the end of dangerous life-threatening experiments to remove ovaries of wild horses,” added Jenni Best, assistant legal director for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program.
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, and in April of 2017 we 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 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 publically 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 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.”