Years of Litigation Leads to Lopsided Court Decision
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a split decision on Monday upholding the government’s Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM)roundup of more than 1,600 wild horses along the Nevada-California line in 2010.
In the 2-1 ruling, the appellate panel in San Francisco rejected an appeal by wild equine advocates who accuesed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management of gathering too many wild horses and burros in violation of several laws, including the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
Judge Carlos Bea concluded in the majority opinion the BLM completed the necessary environmental reviews for the Twin Peaks roundup not far from the Oregon line, and that the court must defer to the agency’s expertise.
“In sum, the BLM’s actions fell within the discretion which courts have recognized the BLM has to remove excess animals,” he wrote.
Judge Johnnie Rawlinson wrote in a strongly worded dissent that such deference isn’t warranted if the agency interprets part of a law inconsistently with its overall purpose. She argues BLM violated the intent of Congress to protect the horses.
The ruling upheld an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. in Sacramento that found the BLM acted legally when it gathered horses from overpopulated herds it determined were three times larger than the range can ecologically sustain.
The agency projected that left unchecked, the herds could exceed 6,000 to 8,000 animals within a decade.
But In Defense of Animals and others argued, among other things, that the act prohibits the removal of any mustangs from horse management areas on the range before the agency first identifies old, sick or lame animals to be destroyed humanely.
BLM maintains the term “remove” should be interpreted to refer to the permanent removal of animals, not the temporary gathering of animals to determine which ones should be euthanized and which should be made available for adoption.
“We agree with BLM,” Bea wrote, adding that the act itself does not define “remove.”
“The BLM has definitely done a great smear campaign on our wild horses.” stated Rachel Fazio, advocate attorney, “To be honest reading this opinion it is as if we never wrote any briefs or researched any law – and never mind the actual facts- it is as if we weren’t even involved in the litigation at all. Half of our claims they didn’t even deal with, they didn’t address the prohibition on “capture, harassment, branding and death” – they just focused on the removal language; they got out from under the Principally language by at the 11th hour claiming that the Twin Peaks HMA wasn’t a range, even though the Act does not permit the creation of an HMA, only the creation of a range, and that Dahl v. Clark actually found that designation of an HMA was done pursuant to the range provision of the Act (ie HMA= range) – and of course the wink and a nod on the long-term holding; its on private lands.”
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