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Gov. Matt Mead appeals dismissal of suit seeking to force federal action to remove wild horses

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is appealing a federal judge's recent dismissal of a lawsuit the state filed seeking to force the federal government to remove more wild horses from public lands in the state.

"The situation has not changed," Mead said Friday in announcing the state's appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

"The (U.S) Bureau of Land Management has still not properly managed the wild horse population in Wyoming," Mead said. "Mismanagement of the herds can have adverse consequences for the range and other species which share that habitat. The BLM's approach fails to comply with the applicable law."

U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal of Cheyenne in April granted requests from the Interior Department and wild horse advocacy groups to dismiss the state's lawsuit. She ruled the BLM wasn't required to remove wild horses from areas where it had determined they were overpopulated.

In asking Freudenthal to dismiss the state's case, the federal government and animal protection groups pointed out that the BLM may consider several factors before it decides to proceed with roundups under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

"If wild horse management could be distilled to a numerical calculation, there would be no reason for Congress to have specified the various factors for consideration in the determination that an overpopulation exists and that action is necessary to remove excess animals," Freudenthal wrote.

The ruling was a setback to Wyoming ranchers concerned that too many wild horses are harming grazing lands. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association had filed a friend of the court brief on the state's side.

During the case, lawyers for the state had reported to Freudenthal that seven of Wyoming's 16 wild horse herd management areas were overpopulated by anywhere from 4 percent to 106 percent.

Earlier this spring, Freudenthal upheld a BLM roundup of about 1,300 wild horses east and south of Rock Springs last fall that had been contested by horse advocates.

Michael Harris is legal director for the group Friends of Animals in Colorado, a group that entered the state's lawsuit against the BLM to argue against the state's push to round up more horses.

"We're sort of shocked," Harris said Friday of Mead's decision to appeal. "I think the case that he brought was a long shot, and it was easily shot down by the district court. And we think that the governor should instead work with the Bureau of Land Management to better protect wild horses."

Harris said he believes Wyoming needs to realize that wild horses belong to all everyone.

"Americans want to see places for wild horse in the West, and all states in the West need to share in and contribute to providing land for a species that Americans dearly love," Harris said.

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