‘No Ambiguity:” Court Tells BLM It Cannot Treat Public Land as Private

by Arno Rosenfeld  as published on the Casper Star Tribune

The appeals court ruled that while the BLM claimed it was justified in treating the entire checkerboard as private, given the “unique land management situation” the agency lacked the authority to make this judgement.

Destruction of Wyoming's Adobe Town herd by the BLM ~ photo by Carol Walker of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Destruction of Wyoming’s Adobe Town herd by the BLM ~ photo by Carol Walker of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

The Bureau of Land Management may not treat public lands as private out of practical considerations, a federal appeals court wrote in an opinion released this week.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an Oct. 14 ruling that concluded the BLM’s 2014 roundup of wild horses in the checkerboard region was illegal. Monday’s decision explained the court’s reasoning.

The judges wrote that the BLM violated the Wild Horses Act due to the difficulty of rounding up horses in the region, where public and private land alternate in one-square-mile plots in south-central Wyoming.

 “Its methodology was to treat public lands as private lands,” Judge Monroe McKay wrote in a concurring opinion. “But, though the BLM’s solution to the problem presented by the checkerboard may seem reasonable, it is not in accordance with the [law].”

The case originated in 2013 when the Rock Springs Grazing Association sued the BLM demanding the agency remove wild horses from their land in the checkerboard.

The BLM agreed to do so and determined the only way to keep horses off the grazing association land was to remove them from the public plots of land as well, given that the area is unfenced and horses move around on a daily basis.

But horse advocates sued the BLM claiming that while the agency can unilaterally remove horses from private land, it must go through an extensive review process before removing horses from public land.

A U.S. District Court in Wyoming initially sided with the BLM but the 10th Circuit decision overturned that ruling and agreed with the argument made by horse advocates.

 The appeals court ruled that while the BLM claimed it was justified in treating the entire checkerboard as private, given the “unique land management situation” the agency lacked the authority to make this judgement.

There is “no basis for BLM to construe the terms ‘privately owned land’ and ‘private lands’ to include the public land sections of the checkerboard,” the court wrote.

“[P]ractical realities do not provide BLM with the authority to construct the [Wild Horses] Act in a manner contrary to its plain and unambiguous terms.”

While the ruling released earlier this month halted the BLM’s checkerboard roundup planned for Oct. 18, Monday’s full opinion may set a precedent for similar cases around the West.

The groups that sued the BLM, including American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and the Cloud Foundation, argued that the BLM’s actions in the checkerboard posed a wider threat to public land management.

If the BLM was allowed to treat public lands within the checkerboard as private for purposes of horse roundups, the groups argued the agency could also treat other public land as private if it helped them meet their land management objectives.

But the 10th Circuit decision may put this concern to rest.

“[T]here is simply no ambiguity in the terms ‘public lands,’ … and ‘private lands,’” the court wrote.

14 comments on “‘No Ambiguity:” Court Tells BLM It Cannot Treat Public Land as Private

  1. Truthfully, this case originated in the ’80s and has been revisited several times since as the RSGA et al has repeatedly sued for removals of wild horses from around 1 million acres of public lands in WY. It is refreshing to know a federal judge can read the words PUBLIC and PRIVATE and recognize these are separate and legally distinct land ownership rights. Intentionally blurring these distinctions would erode rights for ALL our citizens. My next question is who pays for all the legal fees to determine that PUBLIC and PRIVATE are different designations, and always have been?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Does this mean that those horses are going back; or are they dead already? Will the BLM transplant other horses, that it has rounded up already, If the original horses from this area are not alive anymore? I hope this decision is not too latte for the horses that originally came from that area.

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  3. This decision is gigantic for the Wyoming wild horse herds and for all wild horse and burro herds. It is clearly apparent that the BLM has done whatever the ranchers told them to do – their actions loudly speak and show a regulatory captured agency.
    In fact, the BLM Field Manager of the Rock Springs Field Office says, and I quote “For all intents and purposes, we consider the Checkerboard private.”
    But it is NOT private. In fact, over half of the Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek and Great Divide Basin Herd Areas are public land, that belongs to me and to all citizens of the United States of America, not the Rock Springs Grazing Association.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Said it before and saying it here again …
    Next is to get all those horses that were illegally captured from the Checkerboard herd areas and put them BACK on their legal land.
    BLM keeps records of the status (current location etc) of those horses and although stallions have been gelded and most have been transported to BLM feedlots … they can and SHOULD ALL be returned to their legal land.
    PS and let the rock springs grazing association pay for the horses to be RETURNED.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! It is sad that so many horses and burros have been lost to the greed of cattlemen. I hope this is a change in the tide for all of the beautiful souls that are left. Keep fighting the good fight!!

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  5. You can comment on this Casper Star Tribune article by clicking on the “Casper Star Tribune” at the top of the article that RT posted (above).

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  6. Great! At least the courts can see that the BLM is breaking the law, even if the politicians allow it, or turn a blind eye. Now to get them returned to where they belong and the American public wants them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good news for our horses and should be good news to return the horses kept in holding that will relieve the BLM budget and their excuse to send them to auction — an awful word it is. We can also find out how many they are actually holding.

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  8. Success! Thank you Cloud Foundation and American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign for using your resources to file a lawsuit against the BLM and the illegal removal of wild horses from the Wyoming checkerboard area!!! This is a huge win for America’s wild horses!! Now, I want the BLM to take the horses gathered in 2014 each and everyone of them back to their home and set them free as they should be!! The Rock springs grazing association Can go straight to hell!

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