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EDITORIAL: Judge should toss BLM’s media restrictions

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management wants to limit media and public access to wild horse roundups around the West, but not because the agency is seeking greater efficiency and safety, as it claims.

The BLM’s mismanagement of the region’s wild horse and burro populations is a matter of public record. The number of captured horses and burros in holding corrals now exceeds the estimated 40,000 animals living on the range, The Associated Press reports. The roundups have become nothing more than make-work boondoggles that cause the animals unnecessary stress and force them into captivity.

No, the BLM wants to limit access to the roundups because it wants less public scrutiny of its incompetence. That’s why Horseback Magazine photographer Laura Leigh and her advocacy group, Wild Horse Education, sued the BLM to make sure taxpayers can see the roundups first-hand.

This month, Stephens Media, the parent company of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and many other newspaper companies and media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Ms. Leigh’s case. That action was returned last year to U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks of Reno by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to consider the constitutionality of BLM policies restricting access.

The BLM’s bogus safety and efficiency concerns are “speculative at best and at worst are overly broad and ambiguous, often arbitrarily and capriciously chilling visual journalists’ ability to cover matters of public concern,” the brief says. “If they are willing to assume such risks in a warzone, it should certainly be considered that such safety concerns by the government are nothing more than mere pretext when it comes to horse gathers.”

Earlier this year, an independent panel assembled at the request of the BLM determined the costly roundups do nothing to control the wild horse population. The committee recommended less federal intervention, more fertility control and more of letting nature take its course.

Judge Hicks should throw out the BLM’s access restrictions on wild horse roundups, which clearly are intended to prevent the collection of information on a massive public policy failure. A far better outcome would have the BLM ending the roundups and leaving Nevada’s wild horses alone.

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