Friends of Animals has a huge cheer for the news that the 10thCircuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) broke the law when the agency removed wild horses from Wyoming’s Checkerboard region in 2014. The checkerboard area is made up of alternating blocks of public and private land, and the BLM’s mismanagement resulted in treating the entire area as private because the agency is wedded to cattle and sheep ranchers.

Wild horse advocacy groups, including American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, argued in the District Court of Wyoming in 2014 that rounding up all wild horses from public and private lands based on a private ranching organization’s demand to remove the wild horses from their private lands violated the WHBA because BLM can’t remove wild horses without doing an excess determination first.

It was also argued that the 2014 roundup violated FLPMA because appropriate management levels in existing Range Management Plans (RMPs) (the 1997 Green River RMP and the 2008 Rawlins RMP) were still binding.  

The plaintiffs lost in the Wyoming court, but appealed to the 10th Circuit. While the 10th Circuit hasn’t issued an explanation of its ruling, on Oct. 14 the 10th Circuit issued a brief opinion that the 2014 Checkerboard removal violated both the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976.

Any victory for Wyoming’s wild horses uplifts us at Friends of Animals because we have submitted multiple comments to the BLM  regarding proposed removals of Checkerboard wild horses since 2014, and we protested the 2014 roundup at Rock Springs Holding Facility that year. During that trip, we visited wild horses on the Checkerboard when we drove the 23-mile Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Tour. As we drove along the gravel-base roads we saw several bands of wild horses. The allure of these precious wild horses, interacting with their families, was accented by the views of the Wyoming Range to the West, the Wind River Range to the northeast and the Uinta Range to the south. Instead of rounding up wild horses from the Checkboard, the BLM should be investing in creating additional scenic tours the public could experience these incredible animals living on this breathtaking range.

The BLM was slated to roundup more horses from the Checkerboard this month, but because of the 10th Circuit decision, the agency confirmed the October Checkerboard roundup will not take place.

“We were poised to file a lawsuit to stop the upcoming roundup in the Checkerboard,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “Now we can focus our efforts and resources on other wild horses the BLM is mismanaging on America’s public lands. We are inspired that wild horses are making real progress.”