Wild Horse Lawsuit to Go Forward

A federal judge sided with wild horse advocates April 19 when he declined to dismiss their lawsuit claiming that a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) round up of approximately 2,000 animals from the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area near Susanville, Calif., was unlawful.

On July 15, 2010, attorneys Joseph Cotchette, Stuart Gross, William Spriggs, and Rachel Fazio filed the complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on behalf of ecologist Chad Hanson; Barbara Clark, founder of the DreamCatcher Wild horse and Burro Sanctuary; Linda Hay; and the animal advocacy group In Defense of Animals. The complaint alleges that the gather violates the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 because it endangers horses. The Act protects mustangs and burros from harassment, capture or death, and places the animals' management under BLM jurisdiction.

The complaint also alleges that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act. That Act requires federal agencies to consider environmental impacts of their proposed actions and offer to reasonable alternatives to those actions. The complaint alleges that the BLM failed to prepare an environmental impact study demonstrating that animals residing in the Twin Peaks management area exceed levels appropriate to maintain that range's ecological balance, and that the agency failed to offer alternatives to the gather for maintaining such an appropriate ecological balance.

The BLM sought the suit's dismissal on grounds that the case was moot because the gathers had already taken place.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Morrison C. England Jr. declined to dismiss the case, said a spokesperson for the court's clerk.

BLM Spokesman Tom Gorey declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Eric Kleiman, research director for In Defense of Animals said England's decision was groundbreaking.

"We may finally have a court address the merits of a case challenging wild horse roundups and not dismiss it on technicalities," said Kleiman. "This is a legal decision that could lead to America's wild horses finally having their day in court."

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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