Utah Ranchers Sue BLM over Removal of Excess Animals

A group of Utah ranchers has accused the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of violating the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 by failing to remove excess wild horses residing on grazing lands used by the ranchers.

The 1971 act federally protects wild horses and burros, which reside on Western rangelands, and places them under the BLM's jurisdiction. The BLM website indicates that more than 2,500 wild horses and 100 burros reside in 22 herd management areas in Utah.

According to the complaint filed April 30 in U.S. District Court in Utah, the ranchers allege the BLM has violated the act by failing to remove excess horses from both private lands and public rangelands under the state of Utah's jurisdiction. The complaint further alleges that the excess horses damage the rangelands and compete with rancher-owned livestock for resources, including water and grass. Finally the lawsuit alleges that the BLM's failure to control the wild horse herds threatens the ranchers' livelihoods.

“(The) BLM has failed to comply with its duties in this respect and its failure has resulted in an excessive wild horse population which has severely damaged the public and private rangeland resources and has caused damage and injury to the plaintiffs, who are private land owners and federal and state grazing permittees, and to their livestock operations, livelihoods, and way of life,” the complaint said.

Karen Budd-Falen, the ranchers' lead attorney, said the case is about ensuring the BLM complies with existing law, as non-compliance would force the ranchers off BLM grazing allotments, state-leased lands, and private lands “without due process or compensation.” 

"This case is not about supporting or not supporting horses—it is much more simple," she said. "It is about whether the government has to comply with federal statutes."

BLM spokesman Tom Gorey declined comment on the ongoing litigation.

The case remains pending.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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