“Their lawsuit is an attempt to elevate ranchers’ private interests in grazing livestock on public lands above the public’s interest in preserving wild horses and the government’s mandatory duty to protect them.”
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (October 22, 2014)…. Today, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, Utah photographer John Steele and wild horse advocate and adopter Lisa Friday filed a motion requesting the federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Western Rangeland Conservation Association and Utah ranchers against the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the U.S. District Court in Utah. In August, the court granted the advocates’ motion to intervene in the lawsuit, which seeks to compel the government to remove wild horses from public and private lands.
“This lawsuit was filed by livestock owners that view wild horses as competition for below-market, taxpayer-subsidized grazing on public lands,” said Caitlin Zittkowski, attorney for Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal, the firm representing the advocates. “Their lawsuit is an attempt to elevate ranchers’ private interests in grazing livestock on public lands above the public’s interest in preserving wild horses and the government’s mandatory duty to protect them.”
“The ranchers’ lawsuit lacks legal merit, and we are asking the court to reject its claims without delay,” Zittkowski concluded.
The case was filed by ranchers who graze livestock on public lands in southwestern Utah. It seeks removal of hundreds of wild horses from the Frisco, Four Mile, Bible Springs, Sulphur, Muddy Creek, and North Hills Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and the Blawn Wash Herd Are (HA). In response, the government has informed the court that wild horses are not damaging rangelands in this area and that it has made no determination that “excess” wild horses exist in the HMAs and HA in question.
The lawsuit is part of a broader push from anti-wild horse private, commercial ranching interests to compel the BLM to remove an increasing number of wild horses from public lands and sell captured wild horses for slaughter. Ranchers in Nevada and Wyoming have also recently sued the BLM, and the agency has a history of quickly capitulating to their demands, regardless of the legal merits of the cases. In Wyoming, the government just completed a massive roundup of more than 1,200 wild horses as part of a settlement of a lawsuit that the Interior Department itself invited ranchers to file against the agency.
In Utah, under pressure from ranchers, the BLM rounded up 173 wild horses from the Blawn Wash HA in July. Utah ranchers put forward the false claim that wild horses are overpopulating the range, despite the fact that livestock graze on 22 million acres of land in the state, while wild horses are restricted to just 2.1 million acres. There are fewer than 4,000 wild horses on BLM land in Utah, compared to hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep.
National opinion polls indicate that 72 percent of the public supports protecting wild horses on public lands, while just 29 percent wants public lands used for livestock grazing.