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 Monday 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 Instead, BLM relied upon on outdated analysis and significantly exceeded what was required to protect the horses and the land from the immediate impact of the fire.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 horses 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.