On May 17, 2023, plaintiffs (Return to Freedom, Front Range Equine Rescue, Meg Frederick and Angelique Rea) filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from removing around 2 million acres designated for wild horses in southwest Wyoming, a move which would be to the benefit of private livestock ranchers.
“This decision must not be allowed to stand,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom (RTF), a national nonprofit wild horse and burro advocacy organization. “The BLM is using an agreement with livestock ranchers as an excuse to violate its responsibilities under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Federally protected wild horses and burros must not be allowed to be removed from our public lands due to private landowner pressure — or whole herds will vanish across the West.”
The BLM’s changes, finalized on May 8, 2023, will:
- remove 1.95 million acres from wild horse use by converting the Salt Wells and Great Divide Herd Management Areas to inactive Herd Areas not managed for horses;
- manage the herd on the 393,000-acre White Mountain Herd Management Area as non-reproducing, effectively zeroing it out, too, with the agency considering population management tools that are dangerous, inhumane, unproven, costly (surgical sterilization of mares), ineffective (sex-ratio skewing) or that do not have a fully understood effect on wild herds (gelding stallions);
- slash its population target for the 478,000-acre Adobe Town Herd Management Area from a range of 610-800 wild horses to just 225-450 horses; and
- potentially engage in illegal and unnecessary surgical sterilization of the resident wild horses.
The BLM stated that it amended its Resource Management Plan based on an agreement it entered into in 2013 with the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA).
The RSGA had sued for the removal of all of the wild horses from the 2-million-acre Checkerboard region, an unfenced area of alternating, one-mile-square blocks of public and private land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad.
The BLM’s reason for removing this land from wild horse use is that complying with its legal obligations to America’s wild horses is too much trouble for it.
“The BLM can’t just throw up its hands because Congress handed it a challenge with managing wild horses on taxpayer funded lands,” said Hilary Wood, President of plaintiff FRER. “That just isn’t a valid reason for the BLM which is charged with conserving wild horses and burros on behalf of all Americans.”
The announced changes demonstrate blatant bias and violation of federal law. And during a $1.1 million, three-month-long helicopter roundup from late 2021 to early 2022, the BLM set the stage for the changes by capturing and removing 3,502 wild horses from their home ranges in Southwest Wyoming. Thirty-seven wild horses died during the roundup.
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation (RTF) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to wild horse preservation through sanctuary, education, conservation, and advocacy since 1998. It also operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary at three California locations, caring for more than 450 wild horses and burros.
Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to end the abuse and neglect of horses through rescue and education. It was incorporated in the State of Colorado in 1997. FRER’s “Save the Wild Horses” campaign provides rescue, education, advocacy and legal action to protect America’s wild horses.