RENO — Two Nevada organizations have sued the federal government, alleging mismanagement of wild horses led to excessive damage to rangelands and the animals themselves.
The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation and the Nevada Association of Counties named Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management as defendants in their lawsuit filed Dec. 30 in U.S. District Court in Nevada.
BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington declined to comment on Sunday. “It’s under review,” she said.
The groups accuse the government of failing to comply with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which requires the BLM to protect the “natural ecological balance of all wildlife species” on public lands and to remove “excess” horses and burros from the range.
They argue the BLM should “destroy” horses that are deemed unadoptable, the Elko Daily Free Press reported. The BLM has opposed the sale of horses for slaughter.
The agency has removed nearly 100,000 horses from the Western range over the last decade, citing the requirements of the 1971 federal law. Horses passed over for adoption are sent to long-term facilities in the Midwest.
But the number of horses gathered last year declined as the BLM deals with budget constraints and a lack of capacity at short- and long-term holding facilities.
In addition to damaging public land and threatening private water rights, the government’s wild horse program is “first and foremost” detrimental to horses, according to the lawsuit.
“Free-roaming horse and burro herds in Nevada are frequently observed to be in malnourished condition, with the ribs and skeletal features of individual animals woefully on view and other signs of ill-health readily observable,” the complaint states.
Anne Novak, executive director of the horse advocacy group Protect Mustangs, said most wild herds are “healthy and fit,” and the groups’ claim that they are in poor condition appears to be a “skewed effort” to justify killing them because they don’t want to share water.
Some 1.75 million head of livestock grazing on public land outnumber wild horses by more than 50-to-1 and cause most of the range damage, she added.
“The plaintiffs have an arrogant sense of entitlement,” Novak told The Associated Press. “I’m grateful the American public will see how the plaintiffs allegedly intend on denying native wild horses the right to water and are requesting BLM destroy the majority of the roundup survivors. Their lawsuit will rally more voters to fight for wild horses to remain wild and free for future generations.”
Representatives of the two groups did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment Sunday.