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CLARIFICATION ON WILD HORSE LAWSUIT

June 25th, 2010 by Nicole Meyer

On May 24, 2010, In Defense of Animals (IDA) announced that U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman dismissed our lawsuit to stop the Calico Mountain Complex wild horse roundup on a legal technicality. As you may recall, IDA, joined by renowned ecologist Craig Downer and noted children’s author Terri Farley, filed a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stop the largest roundup of wild horses in years — the Calico Mountain Complex roundup in Nevada.

We’d like to clarify the outcome of this litigation, further explain why the judge dismissed the lawsuit, and describe why we believe that this groundbreaking case bodes very well for any future litigation.


Judge Friedman’s dismissal of the lawsuit (the ruling can be read here) was based on plaintiffs’ lack of standing – the legal right to issue a lawsuit.  Judge Friedman’s dismissal had nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of the case. In his December 23, 2009 opinion denying plaintiffs’ request for a Preliminary Injunction (decision is here), Judge Friedman did rule, pending further briefing, that BLM’s practice of holding wild horses in long-term holding was likely illegal. He stated that “BLM’s use of long-term holding facilities runs counter to the statute’s mandate that the agency’s management of wild horses occur at ‘the minimal feasible level.’ 16 U.S.C. § 1333(a). Long-term maintenance of thousands of horses in holding pens constitutes intensive management that was not contemplated by Congress when the Wild Horse Act was passed.”  The Judge further wrote, “BLM’s proposed confinement of hundreds or thousands of horses from the Calico Mountains Complex in long-term holding facilities in other states thus appears to contravene the unambiguous intent of Congress as expressed in statutory text and legislative history.” His opinion relied on the statute’s clear, unambiguous prohibition on relocating wild horses and burros to areas of the public lands where they did not exist in 1971 (the year the statute became law).

In light of this Judge Friedman wrote that “the agency’s best option might be to postpone the gather,” although he did go on to elucidate the potential problems with such a postponement. As we know, that postponement did not happen and today over 1,800 Calico wild horses are confined at a BLM facility in Fallon, Nevada. Over 100 horses have died as a result of the roundup and more than 40 heavily pregnant mares had spontaneous abortions – the vast majority died at the Fallon facility.

It’s important to note that Judge Friedman’s May 24, 2010 final ruling “assumes, without deciding, that plaintiffs’ rather conclusory allegations suffice” for legal standing in regards to the roundup and removal of the Calico horses, but that plaintiffs had not established standing with regards to the relocation to long-term holding of the horses. Because the Judge did not issue an injunction stopping the roundup and removal of the horses from Calico and that these actions had already occurred, he determined the roundup and removal issues were moot. The judge determined plaintiffs had not satisfactorily established standing regarding long-term holding, stating that “Their [plaintiffs’] asserted injury results from the removal of wild horses from the Complex, not from the placement of removed horses in long-term holding facilities.”  He further stated that “plaintiffs’ asserted injuries are not sufficiently connected or ‘traceable’ to the agency action in question,” which was the long-term holding issue. These are the reasons for the Judge’s decision to dismiss the case – mootness for a roundup that the Court refused to enjoin, and the Court’s finding that plaintiffs had probably established standing for roundup and removal, but not for relocation to long-term holding.

It is significant that the Court assumed that plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient for legal standing on the roundup and removal aspects of the litigation. Because the Judge did not address the merits at all in his May 24, 2010 ruling, his preliminary finding in his December 23, 2009 opinion that relocation to long-term holding is likely illegal indicates that the arguments put forth by plaintiffs in this litigation will be successful in any future lawsuit – especially since we fervently believe that the additional briefing requested by the Judge greatly strengthened plaintiffs’ arguments. This case was filed pro bono and we remain extremely grateful for the tremendous generosity of lead attorney William Spriggs, his legal team and law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney.

IDA is determined to continue to fight the BLM’s ill-conceived plans to continue removing wild horses from their homes on the range and stockpiling them in long-term holding

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    solve the problem.
    Meanwhile, the horses are being run to death & the herds are pulled apart – for
    what – so the cattle have more cheap grazing. I’m sure not all ranchers are
    bound & determined to get rid of the mustangs – but sure seems that way.
    The thing is, Mrs. Pickens offers to use her money to acquire land and even that isnt enough to make the people in charge wake up.
    Somehow, this has to change.

  118. July 11, 2010 at 7:13 am, D. Eddy said:

    Small correction to my previous email. The holding pens near Pyramid Lake, Palomino, not Phoenix.

  119. July 11, 2010 at 7:02 am, D. Eddy said:

    Fallon NV is a small town surrounded by lots of land. Could you be specific as to the location of the holding pens that we might maps.Google the terrain to see its accessibility? This would be good for other holding areas as well.

    I am an independent photographer, without funding as usual, and will most likely be in Nevada sometime this summer. I have a brother in Hawthorne, a couple hours south of Fallon. I also used to live at Lake Tahoe, Nevada side, so know the area fairly well. I would be very open to do some photography of these problems if support was available.

    Also, I just remembered, there’s another holding pen at Phoenix, I believe, that I drove by on the way to Pyramid Lake, south side. It’s not been mentioned in any writings I’ve gone through.

    I think maybe Russell Means might be interested in this as well?? Joan Baez?? etc.

  120. July 10, 2010 at 1:34 am, Jane Schwartz said:

    HI all,
    PI have just signed your petitions to stop the upcoming roundups but notice you are still sending to Bob Abbey as head of BLM. He isn’t any more, please can you correct that and ENSURE these eMails get to the correct recipient.
    THank you for all you are doing,

  121. July 09, 2010 at 7:08 pm, Nina Council said:

    I believe it to be criminal for the BLM to insist on rounding our majestic wild horses. They have a right to a free life. Where do things stand in regard to Mrs. Madeleine Pickins and her ideas for giving a million acreas to wild horses? What is happening with that? The cattle industry are the ones who want to get rid of wild horses so their cows can graze. If humans would give up eating beef there would be plenty of land for horses, there is plenty of land anyway if humans were to wake up and help the plight of the wild horse. Horses help build this country, they pulled wagons, carried tons of materials, pulled the plows, died in human wars and this is how we treat them, SHAME SHAME SHAME. The BLMs ideas are totally inadequate, the roundups are so cruel where horses die, then they die in crowded pens, who authorizes such horrid plans? It is all criminal. Humans are killing everything, perhaps we need to start riding horses again, get out of our cars, and I am serious. We need more dirt roads, we need improved humanity, humanity is too too cruel and unacceptable in its actions.

  122. June 25, 2010 at 5:19 pm, MLV said:

    Can you address the failure of Atty,Bill Spriggs to file an appeal in December ? I am also wondering how the attorney also having HSUS as a client was not a conflict of interest due to their business arangement with BLM. Also, why wasn’t the lawsuit brought on NEPA charges ? It seems there is such a strong case here to stop all the round ups on that basis alone. If possible can you also address how the negotiations for a possible return of the wild horses to the range fit in with the case ruling. Advocates were told to hold off on calls to BLM while there were negotiations happening for the return and yet it seems that the negotitions were for something else. Many supporters are confused by these things, can you elaborate. Thank you for all you are doing and for stepping up to bring lawsuits. I will continue to support IDA in any way possible.

    • June 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm, lee chesterfield said:

      Thank you Eric for June 25th post. I have the same question MLV posted June 25. And what is next for the blm roundups .?