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.
FoA wins victory for Idaho’s beloved wild horses
Following a legal challenge from the international non-profit animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew its Oct. 26, 2017 decision to roundup approximately 150 wild horses from the Challis Herd Management Area in Custer County, Idaho. The BLM planned to permanently remove at least 50 of them and to forcibly drug the mares with the fertility pesticide PZP.
“Without the help of Friends of Animals, it is likely that BLM would be rounding up the wild horses of Challis HMA at this very moment,” said Michael Harris, Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program Director. “Many of the horses would be facing a life of captivity while others would be subject to being dosed with an unproven and unsafe fertility control drug. But, because of our work, BLM has withdrawn its decision.”
The BLM tried to get away with not allowing the public to provide comment during the decision-making process, which is a violation of the National Environmental Protection Act.
“It seems it is becoming routine for BLM to seek to cut corners and knowingly violate the law when it comes to protecting America’s wild horses,” Harris said. “This atrocious behavior will not stand under the watchful eyes of Friends of Animals.
“This is a victory for wild horses and for Friends of Animals. BLM needs to know that its actions concerning wild horses will be heavily scrutinized by Friends of Animals and its members. If BLM continues to violate the law, Friends of Animals will be there to stop it.”
The Challis HMA, which is bordered by Salmon, Herd and Road Creeks, encompasses more than 154,000 acres of public land, but BLM only allows a measly 185 to 253 horses to live in this vast area. Despite a recent count of only 244 wild horses, BLM decided to take action to further reduce the population.
However, the BLM, which treats ranchers as clients, allows 2,239 cattle to graze in nearby allotments.
FoA wins victory for northwest Colorado wild horses
Friends of Animals won a battle with the Bureau of Land Management to protect wild horses in northwest Colorado. In September of 2017, the BLM agreed not to undertake any further removals of wild horses without first completing additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Friends of Animals has taken away what amounted to a blank check to perform roundups without any environmental review or public notice and we will push to ensure that the BLM considers the true devastating impacts of wild horse roundups before it goes back to roundup horses again,” said Jennifer Best, assistant legal director for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “We are committed to fighting for these horses every step of the way.”
Friends of Animals initiated its lawsuit back in 2015 after a violent, frightening, inhumane helicopter roundup of up to 167 wild horses from the West Douglas Herd Area was already underway. BLM’s initial decision included language indicating that BLM could come back and roundup more horses for several years as part of its extinction plan. “This is significant because under the original decision, BLM had authorized round-ups as needed over the next five years,” said Michael Harris, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program.
FoA stops BLM, HSUS from turning Nevada’s public lands into zoo-like settings
Following a lawsuit filed by international animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, in May of 2017, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cancelled its five-year remote darting program that would have forcibly drugged Nevada’s Rocky Hill wild horses with fertility control.
“This is a significant victory for Nevada’s wild horses because it was a five-year fertility control plan,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “What is ignored by the pro-fertility control community is that wild horses darted with PZP to inhibit their ability to naturally reproduce aren’t really, well, wild anymore.
“The solution to any perceived wild horse crisis in Nevada is not to simply prescribe a drug. If wild horses, along with other wild animals in the West, are to be saved, we must change the unsustainable method of land use planning that we have created for our public lands. Wild horses and other wildlife deserve their own lands to call home.”
Since the BLM caters to the cattle and sheep ranching industry, it has created an artificially low appropriate management level for the Rocky Hills Herd Management Area (HMA). A measly 86-143 wild horses are deemed appropriate for the HMA , which consists of 83,988 acres.
If that’s not staggering enough, the bombshell in this case is that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which claims to advocate for the protection of wild horses and burros, intervened in Friends of Animals’ original appeal and petition to suspend BLM’s Aug. 2016 decision on behalf of the BLM, showing its true colors—that one of the nation’s wealthiest animal charities buys into the myth perpetuated by cattle and sheep ranchers that there are too many wild horses on federal public lands.
HSUS is the registrant of the fertility control drugs PZP and ZonaStat-H. However when HSUS obtained EPA registration, the organization never provided evidence that the birth control doesn’t have negative side effects…it just provided information about its efficacy and actually requested waivers for most of the studies ordinarily required from an applicant seeking pesticide registration—including a toxicity study, ecological effects and environmental fate guideline study.
The majority of research submitted by HSUS did not consider the biological, social and behavioral effects the drug can have on wild horses. More recent research has demonstrated repeated applications of PZP can cause physical damage to treated mares; it is not completely reversible; it can increase mortality in foals post-PZP effectiveness; and it interferes with herd cohesion, which is critical to the overall health of wild horses. In addition, preventing mares from producing foals can create a genetic bottleneck that may ultimately extinguish the species as a whole.
No public comment or notice was given before the BLM’s decision about the Rocky Hills HMA was made. Furthermore, the BLM did not prepare a project-specific Environmental Assessment (EA) to inform this decision; instead, BLM completed a Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA), in which it concluded that the Fertility Control Darting Project “is essentially similar to an alternative analyzed in the prior National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) documents,” and the effects of the Project “are similar to those disclosed” in the 2010 Callaghan Complex EA, so no further NEPA analysis was necessary.”
“We were repulsed from the beginning that HSUS would condone BLM’s failure to comply with federal law, specifically NEPA,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “But bolstered by this victory, FoA marches on in its fight to keep the wild in wilderness and to make sure our federal public lands do not become zoo-like settings.”
FoA’s court battle saves more than 2,000 of Wyoming’s wild horses
In March 2017, Friends of Animals (FoA) obtained another remarkable victory for wild horses—the organization challenged one of the largest wild horse roundups in Wyoming’s Red Desert Complex and won.
In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) authorized the roundup and removal of 2,096 wild horses from the Lost Creek, Stewart Creek, Antelope Hills, Crooks Mountain and Green Mountain Herd Management Areas in south central and central Wyoming. The agency’s decision also allowed the forced drugging with fertility control of some mares to be released back to the HMAs.
“Friends of Animals challenged the agency’s decision because, among other things, BLM failed to consider the impact of its decision on the unique Iberian genotype of these wild horse herds,” said Jennifer Best, associate attorney for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “Our lawsuit argued that BLM had committed to preserve this genotype and was legally required to consider how its decision would impact these distinct wild horses.”
The Court vacated and remanded BLM’s decision, meaning BLM cannot remove these horses until it goes back to analyze the potential impact of roundups on the special genotype of these horses and issues a new decision.
Federal judge orders BLM to provide FoA info about Oregon wild horses
In March of 2017, a federal judge in Portland, Oregon, granted a request by Friends of Animals (FoA) to undertake questioning of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials in the form of interrogatories and depositions regarding an “emergency removal” the agency undertook on the Three Fingers Horse Management Area (HMA) in eastern Oregon.
As a result of a brush fire that impacted the northern portion of this HMA, BLM removed 150 horses without complying with federal law, and refused any request by FoA to put the horses back now that the land is recovering from the fire.
This is a huge first step toward stopping BLM from claiming that emergency situations require that horses be permanently removed from the wild. FoA intends to demonstrate that BLM can use less permanent and severe means of protecting horses from threats—measures that will keep horses wild.
Specifically, the judge has ordered BLM to comply with requests from FoA to determine whether: (1) the removed horses can be returned to the Three Fingers HMA after post-fire restoration has been completed; (2) unburned portions of the HMA can support additional horses; (3) fencing is a viable alternative to removal to protect the fire-damaged areas from wild horses; and (4) supplemental food and water can be provided to keep wild horses from returning to the fire damaged areas.
Gruesome wild mare sterilization research project halted
In September of 2016, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew its decision to conduct unnecessary, gruesome mare sterilization research on 225 wild mares, including at least 100 pregnant mares, imprisoned at the Wild Horse Corral Facility in Oregon after Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit on Aug. 3, 2016. The BLM’s decision was formally vacated by the Interior Board of Land Appeals Sept. 9. Despite extending its public comment period on this so-called research, and receiving thousands of comments in opposition of it, the BLM, in its eagerness to appease cattle and sheep ranchers who despise wild horses, had approved of the project.
What was so appalling about this case is BLM made the decision despite acknowledging in its 2016 Environmental Assessment that the three methods of sterilization—oviarectomy via colpotomy; tubal litigation and laser ablation—would likely cause death or necessary euthanasia and that the sterilization procedures would not stop unless the major complication rate for any gestational stage group exceeded 20 percent. In no uncertain terms, that meant that the BLM could destroy, or kill, up to 45 wild horses before stopping the experiments.
FoA stops forced drugging of Nevada’s Pine Nut Herd, twice
Because of pressure from Friends of Animals and the threat of legal action, in May of 2016 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) revoked its April 3, 2014 Decision Record for its misguided Fish Springs Wild Horses PZP Pilot Project. This decision had authorized a public-private partnership with the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates to forcibly drug mares of the beloved Pine Nut Herd with the fertility control pesticide PZP.
When FoA learned the project was underway, it sprang into action because the project suffered the same legal deficiencies Judge Larry R. Hicks’ found last year with the agency’s 2014 removal and fertility control plan.
“We are extremely happy to have put a stop to the forced drugging of Pine Nut mares with the fertility control pesticide PZP for a second time,” said FoA President Priscilla Feral. “Still, it is appalling that BLM would go to such efforts to not only avoid compliance with the law, but to hide from the public that PZP has long-term, negative impacts to the lives of wild horses.”
“There are so many problems with BLM’s decision to recommend the 2014 Pilot Project that it is difficult to know where to start,” said Michael Harris, FoA’s Wildlife Law Program director. Most importantly, Harris says, the decision to arm local landowners with long rifles and PZP-filled darts to go after Pine Nut mares who might wander from the designated Herd Management Area onto private lands near Fish Springs directly conflicts with a 2015 court decision aimed at limiting management actions directed at the Pine Nut wild horses until BLM complies with federal law.
That decision was issued in February 2015 in an action brought by FoA challenging BLM’s Dec. 19, 2014 decision to round-up and remove approximately 332 Pine Nut wild horses and to PZP all mares one-year of age and older.
Wyoming wild horses protected
In December of 2014, the governor of the state of Wyoming, Matt Mead, tried to sue the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to force the agency to round up hundreds of wild horses from public land in the state, and in October of 2015, a federal appeals court basically told him to pound sand by dismissing the lawsuit. Friends of Animals intervened in the case to support BLM’s decision to reject the governor’s request, and while we see this as a positive outcome, we are still appalled and concerned by the anti-wild horse attitude of the governor and the state of Wyoming, which are beholden to cattle and sheep ranchers.
Montana’s beloved Pryor Mountain Herd gets reprieve
The beloved Pryor Mountain wild horses of Montana, the last wild horse herd in the state, got a reprieve from being assaulted by Bureau of Land Management roundups following Friends of Animals’ victory in July of 2016. U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters ruled in favor of Friends of Animals’ in a lawsuit we brought against the agency last year when it announced the round-up and permanent removal of 20 young wild horses between the ages of 1 and 3 in the Pryor Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA) and the continual removal of six to 12 wild horses on an annual basis. Judge Watters’ decision recognizes that BLM was removing wild horses from the Pryor Mountains before considering a reasonable alternative—determining what the appropriate population for the area is and whether the range could potentially support more wild horses. Judge Waters also ruled in Friends of Animals’ favor that BLM could not ignore its promise to the public to do a more thorough analysis of the Appropriate Management Level (AML) before removing wild horses.
Salt River wild horses to remain free
Because of ongoing Friends of Animals’ litigation (other groups bailed and dropped their lawsuits), the U.S. Forest Service filed a declaration on Dec. 14, 2015 with the court to withdraw its July 31, 2015 notice, which classified Salt River wild horses in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona as “unauthorized livestock” and authorized their “impoundment” so they could be auctioned off, sold privately or disposed of. Our Wildlife Law Program Director Michael Harris said about the case: “Friends of Animals is able to dismiss this case because we have been able to achieve a legally binding withdrawal of the roundup notice. This is huge. We feel that it was important that it was legally binding because we wanted to make sure that Friends of Animals, and our members, could rest easy that the U.S. Forest Service wasn’t just going to go in at another time and round these animals up under that notice.” FoA had filed a lawsuit in August of 2015 against the U.S. Forest Service to stop the round-up and permanent removal of wild horses in Tonto National Forest in Arizona.