On Friday, 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 rare restitution 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.”