Friends of Animals has filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for its decision to not return 779 of the wild horses it rounded up from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area (HMA) in Oregon last October. Adding insult to injury, the BLM in the decision admitted that 66 wild horses were “not excess” but granted itself discretion to imprison those horses indefinitely and set in motion a plan to administer fertility control or spay any mares who it decides to return.

FoA is also challenging the decision’s new rule that virtually eliminates critical public participation in considerations about how to manage these and other wild horses in the future.

“The latest decision leaves the Warm Spring wild horse herd well below any population size of effective breeding animals that BLM has recommended in past decisions,” said Michael Harris, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “Between the massive reduction in total population size and the decision to utilize birth control agents, like the pesticide PZP, the Warm Springs herd will no longer be a viable self-sustaining population as required by law. BLM will literally be managing this herd to extinction.”

BLM has failed miserably at living up to its legal obligation to wild horses, but what is about to occur to the horses who for generations have made their home within the Warm Springs HMA, amounts to a complete repudiation of the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971, the lawsuit states.

Speaking of breaking the law the new rule was issued in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). BLM failed to provide the public notice of the new rule before implementing it, nor did BLM solicit comments on the new rule as required by the APA. Finally, BLM failed to acknowledge or offer a reasonable explanation for the rule change, the lawsuit states.

The new rule directs BLM to eliminate public participation for each roundup by issuing a single decision to cover multiple years and removing the requirement for National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) analysis when implementing long term plans. According to the new rule, if BLM issues a multi-year or open-ended wild horse and burro management decision, then no further NEPA analysis is required to continue implementing actions impacting wild horses.

“This is a stark change from BLM’s long-standing decision to provide public participation in most on-the-ground roundup activities, not just on broad, long-term management decisions,” Harris said.

For decades now, the public has played an important role in assuring that (1) BLM is fully informed about the potential ramifications to the horses from its proposed management decisions and (2) that the courts act as a check to prevent bad decisions that do not pass legal muster from going into effect, the lawsuit states.

“This overall decision may be BLM’s preferred model for wild horses moving forward, but it is downright criminal and morally reprehensible,” Harris said.

The BLM’s artificially low appropriate management level for the Warm Springs herd is a measly 96-178 wild horses plus 15-24 burros. However, 6,134 cattle are allowed to graze in the West Warm Springs and East Warm Springs grazing allotments, which are located in the Warm Springs HMA.