Judge: BLM Must Respond to Inhumane Handling Allegations

Judge: BLM Must Respond to Inhumane Handling Allegations

BLM horses in round-up

Photo: Bureau of Land Management

A federal court judge has ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to respond to allegations that certain mustang handling procedures are inhumane. The order stems from an amended complaint seeking an injunction permanently prohibiting the BLM from engaging in inhumane conduct toward wild horses removed during the gathers at the the Triple B, Maverick-Medicine, and Antelope Valley Herd Management Areas in Nevada and the Cherry Springs Wild Horse Territory, in Nevada.

On Aug. 24 wild horse advocate Laura Leigh, vice president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation (WHFF), filed a complaint and a companion temporary restraining order 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 during roundups.

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 depicting a helicopter striking a horse. McKibben agreed that the helicopter pilot flew too close to the animals in violation of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

According to Leigh, during the temporary restraining order hearing, McKibben said he would hold the complaint for injunctive relief and consider the ruling identical unless he received significant information that a hearing was necessary.

On Sept. 8, after documenting the BLM procedures and public access restrictions during the agency's Barren Valley Complex mustang gather, Leigh filed an amended complaint alleging that BLM roundup conduct observed at the Triple B gather was likely to occur during other gathers. The amended complaint asks the court to permanently order the BLM to prevent pilots of helicopters used in the gathers from flying "dangerously close" to animals. It also asks the court to order the agency to provide sufficient amounts of water and feed for mustangs gathered and residing in holding areas. Finally, the amended complaint seeks a court order compelling the BLM to create and publish specific standards for the humane handling of wild horses and burros during gathers.

On Sept. 23 BLM Director Bob Abbey announced that a team composed of agency personnel would review existing agency procedures used at the Triple B gather relative to the alleged instances of animal abuse including those depicted in the video. The review team is scheduled to report its findings on Oct. 12.

On Oct. 6 McKibben ordered the BLM to answer humane treatment issues.

Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman, said the agency had no comment on the order.

Leigh was glad McKibben ordered that the agency reply to the humane claims: "Set standards with consequence for violations is long overdue."

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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