Federal judge temporarily halts wild-horse roundup in Nevada

RENO -- A federal appeals judge on Friday night granted a temporary injunction to halt a government roundup of about 1,700 wild horses from the range in Nevada.

Judge Richard Paez of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the order after U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben earlier in the day denied a motion to stop the federal Bureau of Land Management's removal of wild horses from public lands near the Utah line.

Paez's order will remain in effect until a three-judge panel on which he sits has a chance to review the horse advocacy group Cloud Foundation's emergency motion for injunctive relief pending resolution of the group's appeal of McKibben's ruling.

"To allow for further consideration on the merits of the emergency motion, the court grants temporary injunctive relief," Paez wrote in his order. "Appellees are enjoined from the roundup of wild horses in the ... (affected) areas until further order of the court."

BLM spokesman Doran Sanchez said the order was being reviewed by the agency's legal counsel and he could not comment further on it.

Attorney Rachel Fazio, who represents the Colorado-based Cloud Foundation, said she was pleased with Paez's order and can't recall such a BLM roundup being halted by the court for even a few days.

"This is pretty amazing. At some point I hope the judiciary will step in and enforce the law," Fazio said.

After McKibben's ruling was issued late Friday afternoon, BLM officials announced they would start the horse roundup this morning in the sprawling Triple B Complex.

McKibben disagreed with the Cloud Foundation, which contends the roundup would violate the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act because the BLM failed to prove the herds there are overpopulated and causing ecological harm to public rangeland.

The herds have grown by nearly 1,600 horses since the last roundup in the complex in July 2006, McKibben said, and the range and herd itself will suffer if the population continues to grow at a 20 percent to 25 percent annual rate without BLM intervention.

After McKibben's ruling, Fazio immediately filed a motion asking the federal appeals court to intervene.

Sanchez said his agency has a mandate under the federal law to remove "excess" horses to sustain the health of herds, rangelands and wildlife, and the wild horse population in the complex is five times greater than what the range can support.