Federal court supports wild horse advocates against BLM in groundbreaking ruling

The decision could set a precedent for public input on herd management

According to a news release posted by Rewilding America Now, the Honorable Miranda M. Du (United States District Court for the District of Nevada) ruled on March 29 that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has “unreasonably delayed” crafting Herd Management Area Plans (HMAPs) for wild horses in the Pancake Complex in central Nevada.

The order remands the Pancake Gather Environmental Assessment (EA) back to BLM for further analysis, including those involving wildfire risk. It also orders that an HMAP be prepared for the complex within one year.

Wild Horse Education and Rewilding America Now were the organizations that brought the court action. While their focus was the Pancake Complex herds, it is hoped that this ruling will set a precedent and restore the public’s right to participate in management decisions regarding the thousands of wild horses roaming the American West.

‘Decades-long delays’

The Order from the Honorable Miranda M. Du reads:

“Engaging in the decision-making of an HMAP without actually preparing an HMAP could therefore deprive interested parties of the administrative review processes to which they are entitled.”

“BLM’s decades-long delays in developing and approving HMAPs have therefore been ‘nothing short of egregious’ and clearly violate the rule of reason.”

Also noted in the Order:

“It is undisputed that BLM gathered horses from the Pancake Complex, which caused the injury and deaths of wild horses. Plaintiffs, who are wild horse enthusiasts and animal rights groups, were harmed or have members whose aesthetic interests and interests in the well-being of horses were harmed as a result. Plaintiffs’ requested relief could remedy those harms moving forward.”

HMAP development ‘key’

BLM has never completed an HMAP for the Pancake Complex or the Herd Management Areas (HMAs) included in the complex. This failure has denied the public an opportunity to address many aspects of their management. These include how forage is allocated, water improvements to distribute population, and specific genetic preservation. Also of concern: mitigation measures for mining, livestock expanding in the area and more.

BLM defines the HMAP in the 2020 Report to Congress: “Just as with surveys and monitoring, HMAP development is a key component in the decision-making process for BLM’s wild horse and burro management activities on the ground. In addition, these documents often include public involvement through the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] process.”

More than removal

“I am simply elated. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act is about more than just removal. Today, the court affirmed the intention of that law,” stated Laura Leigh, president of Wild Horse Education (WHE). “For over 12 years I have been trying to address critical issues of on-range management planning with BLM and have been repeatedly denied. There is no replacement for the HMAP where the public has the only opportunity to address specifics of management planning and actions to achieve those goals. Finally, after 38 years, BLM will need to provide that opportunity.”

Federal Court Supports Wild Horse Advocates Against BLM in Groundbreaking Ruling
Image from Rewilding America Now website

Co-plaintiff Manda Kalimian, founder of Rewilding America Now (formerly the Cana Foundation) added, “Rewilding America Now would like to thank the court for its fact-based verdict [and] Jessica Blome and her team for their hard work, but most of all Laura Leigh from Wild Horse Education for her tireless work for our wild horses.

“Environmental rewilding with wild horses is the way forward to protect our lands, horses and all wildlife on the range. The Pancake verdict has set precedence for procedures in managing our wild horses and range lands.” 

The rewilding alternative

“The concepts of rewilding, healing the landscape through the integration of species, are important,” continued Kalimian. “With this ruling, we will have an opportunity to propose the rewilding alternative for the horses of the Pancake Complex during the creation of the HMAP.”

“For a long time, frustration has grown as the public is denied an opportunity to participate in management decisions beyond removals,” stated Wayne Pacelle, director of Animal Wellness Action. “We thank the court for recognizing the importance of HMAPs.”

The case was handled by Greenfire Law of Berkley, California, and the De Castroverde Law Group of Nevada.

Additional information

The Pancake Complex spans approximately 1.5 million acres, about 30 miles west of Ely or 80 miles northeast of Tonopah, Nevada. It consists of the Sand Springs West and Pancake Herd Management Areas (HMAs), the Jakes Wash Herd Area (HA) and the Monte Cristo Wild Horse Territory (WHT). The BLM Battle Mountain District, Tonopah Field Office administers the Sand Springs West HMA. The BLM Ely District Office administers the Pancake HMA and Jakes Wash HA. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Ely Ranger District administers the Monte Cristo WHT.

BLM report to Congress, 2020: https://www.blm.gov/sites/default/files/WHB-Report-2020-NewCover-051920-508.pdf.

About Rewilding America Now (RAN)

The mission at Rewilding America Now is to conserve and restore the North American landscape through innovative rewilding initiatives. The focus is on wild horses as a keystone species. Using science-backed research and partnerships with tribal nations and incorporating traditional ecological knowledge, RAN advocates for public policy that protects wild horses and native lands and allocates new resources for breakthrough rewilding projects. 

Rewilding America Now is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization and a member of the Global Rewilding Alliance. For more information on RAN and its conservation efforts, visit: www.rewildingamericanow.org.




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