Saylor Creek Wild Horses Legal Win May Protect Other Herds from Being Sterilized

Image: Chad and Lynn Hanson.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, The Cloud Foundation and Return to Freedom with Virginia Hudson bring good news to wild horse lovers throughout the country.

What a difference a sound decision makes from Judge Lodge’s ruling in the Jarbidge case! The decision finds that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in a variety of ways in deciding to sterilize the entire Saylor Creek herd. The court agreed that BLM violated NEPA by failing to consider the National Academy of Science (NAS) report, by failing to adequately respond to public comments, by failing to consider reasonable alternatives, and by failing to consider inconsistency between sterilization and the agency’s duties to maintain self-sustaining and free-roaming herds. This precedent-setting decision is a major win in that it could make it difficult to sterilize healthy herds elsewhere in the west.

This case challenged a controversial and precedent-setting plan by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) to permanently sterilize an entire herd of wild horses in the Saylor Creek Herd Management Area (“HMA”) — an action that would have disrupted and destroyed the natural, wild, and free-roaming behavior of these horses, as well as the social organization and long-term viability of the herd to which they belong. The BLM authorized sterilizing this wild horse herd in its recently approved Jarbidge Resource Management Plan (“RMP”).

“The Department of Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated NEPA in many aspects,” states Ginger Kathrens, Volunteer Executive Director of the Cloud Foundation. “They never considered direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts that sterilizing the entire herd will have on the behavior and physiology of wild horses and herd dynamics.” The DOI and BLM violated NEPA by failing to consider a highly relevant technical report (the NAS Report) commissioned by the BLM itself from the National Research Council, a subsidiary of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lisa Friday (TCF’s Director of Communications), wild horse adopter and advocate, states: “We have known for years what the NAS Report concluded: that ‘absence of young horses itself would alter the age structure of the population and could thereby affect harem dynamics.’  It is simply unconscionable to tamper with the social dynamics that sterilization would cause.”

Judge Lodge’s decision states, “The BLM has not considered nor explained how the herd will maintain its wild horse instincts, behaviors, and social structure if it is entirely non-reproducing. Further, the BLM has not taken a hard look at how the introduction of horses from holding pens, where they may have become domesticated and reliant on humans, or from other herds that are unfamiliar with the area and terrain will impact the herd and its wild horse behaviors and survival instincts. In sum, the BLM has failed to consider, in the FEIS, any of these significant impacts on the Saylor Creek herd’s behaviors or on the HMAs environment itself. The Court therefore finds the BLM violated NEPA by failing to take the requisite “hard look” at these aspects of the decision.”

Most importantly, this precedent-setting decision will allow for future decisions in favor of wild horses that the BLM wishes to sterilize. “This decision recognizes that the BLM must carefully consider the harmful impacts of sterilization on wild horses’ behavior and herd dynamics,” said Nick Lawton, the attorney with the public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, LLP who represented the plaintiffs. “This case underscores that wild horse advocates and courts will closely scrutinize the agency’s decisions.”

“I would like to personally thank Virginia and Jeff Hudson for their hard work documenting the beautiful Saylor Creek Wild Horse Herd,” states Ginger Kathrens. “We will continue to do everything we can to protect our wild horse families and their legal right to live in peace and freedom.”

Although this is a wonderful victory for our Wild Horses and Burros, the main fight for their existence continues in the Senate with the interior appropriations committee likely to be decided next week. So please continue to call the Senate.

The Cloud Foundation
107 South 7th St
Colorado Springs, CO 80905
www.thecloudfoundation.org

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