CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A federal appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated the law when it removed more than 1,200 wild horses from southwest Wyoming in 2014.
The ruling Friday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver prompted the BLM to call off a wild horse roundup scheduled to begin in the same area next week. The BLM had planned to gather about 500 horses.
BLM spokeswoman Kristen Lenhardt said that the agency is reviewing the ruling and “going forward, our goal remains to have healthy horses on healthy rangelands.”
It was the second ruling this week by the 10th Circuit that went against the state of Wyoming and ranchers who want the BLM to control the number of wild horses on federal land in the state.
The ruling issued Friday contained just the decision by three members of the court and noted that a full opinion will be issued later.
The ruling pertained to large area around Rock Springs where mostly unfenced federal and private land are interspersed in a checkerboard fashion and where wild horses roam and privately owned cattle graze.
Local ranchers represented by the Rock Springs Grazing Association contend the wild horses are overpopulated and damaging the range that both the horses and cattle graze.
But advocates for the wild horses argue that ranchers want the horses removed just to gain more grazing for their cattle.
Bill Eubanks, a Fort Collins, Colorado lawyer representing the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and other groups that challenged the 2014 roundup, said Friday’s ruling “throws a wrench into the backroom deal between the BLM and livestock grazing interests to eliminate federally protected wild horses from over one million acres of public land in Wyoming.”
Eubanks said in a statement that he believes the ruling sets a “major legal precedent across the West” because it stops the BLM from treating public land like private land.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said Friday’s ruling was an abbreviated version and he would have to wait for the full opinion before commenting on whether ranchers will seek additional legal proceedings in the case.
But Magagna said it appears to him the federal law that the court ruled the BLM had violated needs to be changed because the ruling leaves an “untenable situation” since the same law also provides for the removal of wild horses from private land.
“If they abide by one section of the law in a practical manner, they’re in violation of the other — either way by gathering horses or failing to gather horses,” he said.
The state of Wyoming sided with the ranchers in the lawsuit, and Mary Kay Hill, of Gov. Matt Mead’s office, said the governor will consult with the state attorney general on future legal actions.