Is a TRO in BLM’s Future?By Steven Long
Photo by Terry FitchHOUSTON, (Horseback) – Activists have been scratching their heads as the federal Bureau of Land Management sweeps America’s wild horses from the Western landscape. Why? Because the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act clearly set aside plenty of room for them almost 40 years ago and the agency appears to be in violation of federal law.
The first paragraph of the law is clear cut.
“It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”
Helicopter induced stampedes, multiple brands, killing, and capture of the horses are prohibited, yet all happen on BLM gathers - violations that happen now weekly by the thousands.
Yet BLM consistently says there is no room for the animals as it administers almost 260 million acres of largely vacant land and leases whole chunks of wild horse acreage set aside by Congress for wild horses to ranchers for grazing, land that could be returned to Mustang habitat under the law.
Moreover, the agency consistently has sloppy bookkeeping in its wild horse and burro program that appears to be often blatantly misleading yet ignored by congressional oversight.
What has prompted furious head scratching by wild horse lovers is the vexing question of why a smart lawyer on their side hasn’t marched into federal court with a request for a temporary restraining order tucked in his briefcase to stop the so called BLM “gathers.”
Such an injunction could bring the roundups to a screeching halt.
A case in point is the landmark injunction issued by Texas Judge William Wayne Justice who died recently. By his order, the state’s prison system was changed from the “Boss Hog” era to the state of the art correctional system we see today in the Lone Star State. The injunction held for 30 years.
On the surface, such an action against BLM appears clear cut. The 1971 law is written in plain language and to a layman, the BLM is in blatant violation of it.
National organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States who have the wherewithal to file such a lawsuit have been woefully absent in the fight, animal welfare advocates say.
They point to the recent roundup in Montana’s Pryor Mountains where the iconic stallion Cloud and his herd were captured, some mares sterilized, and broken up. They claim the Pryor Mountain horses are no longer genetically viable as a herd.
HSUS was nowhere to be seen during the Labor Day week controversy.
The Pryor horses horses are a recognized breed in the official Horse Breeds Standards Guide, If the activists claims are correct, a federal agency has wiped out a recognized breed of horse by making its only herd genetically bankrupt.
Activists aren’t the only interested parties with an itch. Even lawyers with a specialty in animal activism are scratching their heads at why nobody has sought an injunction.
“I'm not sure either,” said one attorney who declined to be identified. “It would have seemed the best course a couple of years ago instead of all this piecemeal litigation, but there is a belief among, I guess, most of the lawyers who do this that it is better to challenge each BLM action, keep on top of them that way, because we can't stop the gathers or BLM's role.”
And large scale litigation is expensive and no lawyer willing to work on a huge landmark case for free has come forward.
“I see a basis for a suit,” the lawyer told Horseback Online “If you know of any attorneys who are respected in Washington and licensed to practice in federal court, send them my way.”