Federal Judge Warns BLM over Helicopter Use in Roundups

Federal Judge Warns BLM over Helicopter Use in Roundups

A U.S. District Court judge in Nevada issued a temporary restraining order connected to the BLM's use of helicopters in wild horse gathers.

Photo: Bureau of Land Management

A U.S. District Court judge in Nevada declined to halt the contested Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roundup of wild mustangs from three herd management areas in that state, but issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) connected to the agency's use of helicopters in wild horse gathers.

In July the BLM began gathering approximately 1,726 animals collectively from the Triple B, Maverick-Medicine, and Antelope Valley Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and the Cherry Springs Wild Horse Territory, in Nevada. The agency said the gather was necessary to reduce herd populations so forage and water resources at each HMA are sufficient to sustain the animals residing there.

On Aug. 24 Laura Leigh, vice president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, filed a complaint and a companion (TRO) asking the U.S. District Court Nevada District to stop the gather on grounds that during roundups animals in holding facilities lack water, are inappropriately fed, and that helicopter pilots fly dangerously close to exhausted animals.

On Aug. 30 U.S. District Court Judge Howard McKibben declined to prevent the BLM from completing the gather, but issued a temporary restraining order banning any mistreatment of mustangs during BLM gathers. The order was connected to an Aug. 11 video of the roundup presented by the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, which reportedly depicts a helicopter striking a horse during roundup.

McKibben agreed that the helicopter pilot flew too close to the animals and violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which protects mustangs and burros from harassment, capture, or death and places the animals' management under BLM jurisdiction.

In issuing the order McKibben said, "Should the Defendants contemplate the use of helicopters on the Triple B Complex in the future, they will need to address the concerns raised by this court or be subject to possible additional intervention by this court in the future."

BLM Spokesman Tom Gorey said the BLM is reviewing the order, but declined further comment.

Leigh said the order is a positive step for advocates who seek reform of BLM mustang management systems: "Maybe this (order) can be a beginning toward forcing a truthful conversation instead of one based on justification and outdated protocol."

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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