Horse News

D.C. District Court Rejects Challenge to BLM Wild Horse Removal Decisions

by Duane Morris LLP

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently rejected claims challenging actions by the U.S. Department of Interior, acting through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to remove wild horses from an area of federal land in Nevada known as the Caliente Complex.

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

In 2008, BLM issued a resource management plan (RMP) for the area that, due to wild hors e overpopulation and the ecological effects that stemmed therefrom, effectively set an appropriate management level of wild horses as zero for the entire Complex. BLM thereupon removed horses from the Complex, but due to overpopulation and ecological imbalance, BLM determined in 2018 that all wild horses be removed (2018 Gather Decision). Plaintiffs challenged both actions as contrary to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WHBA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court granted summary judgment for the federal defendants and dismissed all claims. American Wild Horse Campaign v. Bernhardt, No. 18-1529 (BAH) (D.D.C. Feb. 13, 2020).

The court determined that plaintiffs’ challenge to the 2008 RMP was barred by the six-year statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 2401 applicable to civil claims against the federal government:

The decision not to manage the Caliente Complex for horses was made over a decade ago, over the objections of one of the plaintiffs, see Compl. ¶ 11, yet the plaintiffs took no steps to challenge that 2008 decision, even when BLM implemented it in the 2009 Gather Decision. The plaintiffs’ decision to sit on their hands until the issuance of the 2018 Gather Decision carries consequences. The plaintiffs remain free to engage in efforts to persuade BLM to reconsider its decision, to petition Congress to intervene, or to participate in any agency decisionmaking process that occurs when the 2008 RMP requires revision. What they may not do is ignore the limitations period applicable to challenges to agency action.

Slip op. at 28. The court also rejected plaintiffs’ argument, that for purposes of limitations, the 2018 Gather Decision had essentially “reopened” the 2008 RMP therefore making their challenge to that decision timely. Id.

While plaintiffs’ challenge to the 2018 Gather Decision was timely, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ claims on the merits. As to plaintiffs’ claim that the BLM had acted contrary to the WHBA, the court ruled that

BLM properly determined that the wild horses in the Complex are “excess animals” under the WHBA and that removal is necessary to achieve the effective AML.

Id. at 36. In this regard the court rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that BLM’s assessment was not supported by data or analysis; that the Complex actually had the resources to support a wild horse population; that the failure to achieve rangeland health standards was due to fire and livestock use, not wild horse use; and that BLM had failed to consider viable alternatives to removal such as reduction in livestock grazing. Id. at 34-36.

Plaintiffs’ NEPA claim fared no better. The court rejected the argument that BLM had not taken a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of its actions. That there were other causes of rangeland deterioration did not mean that wild horses cause no ecological damage themselves. Id. at 37. Nor was BLM required to consider the alternative of reducing livestock grazing:

[T]he purpose of the 2018 Gather Decision was “to remove all excess wild horses from areas [in the Caliente Complex] not designated for their long-term maintenance and to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple use relationship on the public lands . . . in conformance with the decision in the 2008 Ely RMP to return these areas to HA status.” AR 7. This was not only an appropriate purpose in light of the statutory scheme, but also the required one. … The range of reasonable alternatives is delimited by the goal of removing wild horses from the Caliente Complex, and the plaintiffs’ proposal to reduce livestock grazing permits would not help achieve that objective.

Id. at 41. Finally, the court ruled that BLM had disclosed the relevant environmental information to the public.

15 replies »

    • Agreed. How can a management “excess” mean NO wild horses are allowed in their designated legal homelands? If it can’t support even one horse, there should be ZERO livestock allowed, period. The public trust once was America’s highest achievement, we are watching it be dissolved away by the corrosive and corrupting power of money.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. A zero population is NOT Management! It’s obvious that the judge in this case is pro roundup, pro cattle and pro BLM. Petitioning Congress was suggested and that should be the next move. That should be happening with all other roundups as well. It seems we have no representation anymore. Vote the bastards out!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • How about also reducing the BLM budget by around $1Million for every hrose they remove from their rightful ranges? Since the program claims there are 80-100 thousand wild horses still alive in the wild somewhere, and their annual budget is also around $100Million, it seems each horse or burro they “manage” must be costing us all about $1Million each. So it follows that for every one they remove or kill, the program budget should be reduced by an equivalent amount. Since its “all about the money” maybe this is the language they can understand. Congress, are you listening? How about holding off on that promised additional $21 million to exterminate wild horses and burros faster?


  2. High Court Sides With Plaintiffs on False Claims Timeliness (1)
    May , 2019,

    The U.S. Supreme Court adopted a plaintiff-friendly False Claims Act standard for timely accusing government contractors and other defendants of defrauding the government May 13.

    Allowing a whistleblower to rely on a three-year filing period, even when the government doesn’t intervene in a case, satisfies the FCA’s text, the court ruled in a unanimous decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas.

    Under the FCA, a case must be filed within six years of when the violation occurred, or three years after the date when the material facts are known or reasonably should have been known by a relevant government official, but in any event within 10 years of the alleged violation.
    The ruling affirmed that a whistleblower pursuing an FCA case on behalf of the government enjoys the same amount of time to file a case as the government would have if acting alone or in concert with the whistleblower, said David Chizewer of Goldberg Kohn, Chicago.
    “The number of cases, in practice, that actually will be materially affected by this decision may be limited. But the broader message is impactful,” he said.

    “The court affirmed that whistleblowers pursuing cases without government intervention are fulfilling a function on par with cases the government brings or joins,” he said.
    But if a whistleblower discovers fraud on the day it occurred, and the government doesn’t discover it, the whistleblower could have as many as 10 years to bring suit, the court said.


  3. What a heaping load of BS!!! The impact on the range from wild horses is so negligible, when compared with livestock, yet more and more of them are being removed every year and more and more livestock are put in their place. Wild horses benefit the land, livestock do not. This has been proven time and again by The Academy of Sciences, but the BLM doesn’t care, because they make more money off oflivestock and now they’ve got the courts in their corner, protecting their interests. It’s all BS!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The BLM does NOT make more money off livestock, as the grazing program annually fails to even pay its own administration costs, and goes in the hole over $145 million. Since they get paid many millions by taxpayers to “manage” our wild horses and burros, they in fact are making the BLM the most money, not livestock.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The attached letter was sent to Chairman Grijalva in Dec 2019 by registered mail. To date I have not recieved any response. Kathleen

    On Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 3:49 AM Straight from the Horse’s Heart wrote:

    > R.T. Fitch posted: “by Duane Morris LLP The U.S. District Court for the > District of Columbia recently rejected claims challenging actions by the > U.S. Department of Interior, acting through the Bureau of Land Management > (BLM), to remove wild horses from an area of federal l” >


  5. How did we miss seeing this article?
    There also a video

    BY KRISTIN HUGO ON 5/21/18

    Debbie Coffey from the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, who has filed 130 Freedom of Information Act requests with the BLM, said the bureau estimated that some herds had increased 750-1,250 percent-numbers that she found misleading. “That’s biologically impossible, that’s absurd,” Coffey told Newsweek. “Stallions aren’t having babies!” Only breeding-age female horses can have roughly one foal per year.
    But the population, unchecked by the native predators that people have eradicated, has increased as their range has shrunk. The BLM estimated that there were 72,674 wild horses and burros on public land; Coffey contested that number. The BLM hopes that some combination of its plans to lift restrictions on adoption and/or sterilizing and/or killing animals could reduce their number to “appropriate management levels” of 26,715.

    The Wild Horse Freedom Federation said a better plan would be to reduce the amount of rangeland given to ranchers so that horses can reclaim the range that they had in 1971: 53.8 million acres, as opposed to today’s 26.9 million. The federation suggested that the BLM use offers from the public to help promote horse adoptions, and also reintroduce native predators.

    Liked by 1 person

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