FWS must consider ESA protections for beloved Pryor Mountain wild horses thanks to FoA’s court victory
A federal appeals court ruled May 17 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly refused to review Friends of Animals’ bid to include Montana’s Pryor Mountain wild horse herd—made famous by Cloud, a white palomino stallion featured in documentaries—on the country’s list of imperiled species because its refusal hinged on a rule that is inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act.
“This moves the Pryor Mountain wild horses into queue for full and fair consideration under the ESA,” said Michael Harris, general counsel, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “The red warning flag of extinction is flying on the Pryor Mountain wild horse range. There are a scarce 170 left on 27,000 acres after years of the Bureau of Land Management taking away mares’ ability to reproduce by forcibly drugging them with a fertility pesticide and years of yanking so-called ‘excess’ horses off the land to be part of an adoption scheme.”
FoA petitioned FWS in 2017, stating Pryor Mountain mustangs’ lineage can be traced back to ancient horses who first evolved in North America and Eurasia, but are thought to have temporarily gone extinct following the last Ice Age, before being reintroduced by Spanish settlers. The Old Spanish genetic lineage has since been lost in Spain due to domestic breeding.
The Pryor Mountain mustangs often have primitive markings, indicative of this Old Spanish genetic lineage, or any lineage traceable to early horses. These markings include zebra striping on their legs and dark striping down their backs and withers. Dun coloration and primitive markings are attributable to a gene traceable to ancient horses.
In 2018 FoA challenged FWS’ rejection of its petition.
BLM commits to process to return Oregon’s wild horses to the range
In February, 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.
“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.”
CSU withdraws from BLM plan to force Oregon’s wild horses into zoo-like setting
Colorado State University (CSU) has 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.”
“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, in April of 2017 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.