By Steven Long
Video by Laura Leigh
Photo by Terry Fitch, Horseback Magazine
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – A Nevada federal judge has issued the strongest ruling yet against the Bureau of Land Management and it’s controversial Wild Horse and Burro Program in the wake of a powerful rebuke of the agency’s secretive practices by a California appeals court in the case of Leigh vs. Salizar. The case could be what is termed a landmark case for freedom of access for press and public om federal venues such as wild horse “gathers” if upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reno Federal Judge Howard J. McKibben issued a preliminary injunction Friday to halt pilot conduct in the Triple B Complex case that was amended following the decision in the Ninth Circuit. The plaintiff in each case was Laura Leigh, a freelance writer and photographer credentialed by Horseback Magazine and Horseback Online. She is represented by Reno attorney Gordon Cowan. The ruling could be converted to a permanent injunction against the BLM practice of using helicopters to stampede horses over miles of rough desert land.
McKibben wrote that the court, “enjoins and restrains the defendants and their agents from flying helicopters dangerously or unreasonably close to the wild horses during any roundup at the Triple B complex pursuant to defendants’ May 17, 2011 final environmental assessment and decision for the complex.
The ruling is a potentially devastating blow against the use of helicopters in the roundup of wild horses in the West. The preliminary injunction in the Nevada court opens the door to injunctions in other jurisdictions. The BLM is almost certain to appeal.
Leigh issued a press release late Friday giving details of the case.
In August of 2011 Plaintiff Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education, gained a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that shut down the Bureau of Land Management’ (BLM) Triple B roundup in Eastern Nevada. The TRO was granted directly related to the pilot flying “dangerously or unreasonably close” to wild horses during roundup operations. Specifically Leigh’s camera caught a pilot apparently striking and exhausted animal. During the hearing the Judge referenced the agencies attempt at justification a: “blame the horse affront.”
Following a victory in the Ninth Circuit on Freedom of the Press issues involving wild horses, Leigh’s attorney, Gordon Cowan of Reno, amended the Complaint to address the new case law.
“With each new case that wins you create a new vocabulary of sorts within the conversation of law,” says Cowan, “If you spend time in a law library reading cases you can see the evolution of the conscience of our nation. “
“Rulings like these help to validate the marathon of documentation and creating a chain of information,” said Leigh, “This has been a grueling process lasting years. It is extremely encouraging to see that the ‘faces of the voiceless’ are being heard.”