YREKA, CA. | Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic filed a federal lawsuit against the US Bureau of Land Management, on behalf of its client Wild Horse Fire Brigade (WHFB), on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.
Wild horse advocates as well as counsel for WHFB are concerned and disappointed by the delay of action at U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which has failed to act on the filing and provide relief sought for the legally protected wild horses. It seems that the Court's delay has resulted in the needless death of a wild horse, a native sentient being.
It's really heart-breaking and disappointing that a beautiful protected American wild horse was needlessly killed by the BLM during its illegal roundup during the D.C. Court's delay. And what message does the Court's delay in this matter send to the law students in this case as to timely justice?" said Deb Ferns, president of Wild Horse Fire Brigade.
The lawsuit as filed seeks a halt to the roundup of wild horses from private property within and adjacent to the Pokegama Herd Management Area in southern Oregon. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to follow the law and its own guidance before initiating the roundup.
The suit seeks to ensure the intelligent conservation of protected wild horses and to compel BLM to conduct legally required studies regarding the horses.
Approximately 230 wild horses live in the Pokegama Herd Management Area (HMA), located in a remote area near the California-Oregon border, southwest of Klamath Falls, OR.
Importantly, there is recent evidence via cultural archaeology that suggests wild horses in this region survived the Ice Age as a splinter population and have lived in region since at least 1580 according to a doctoral dissertation by Dr. Yvette 'Running Horse' Collin. Dr. Collin's dissertation titled 'The relationship between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the horse: deconstructing a Eurocentric myth' cites wild horses being observed and documented in the region of what is today the border of southwest Oregon and northwest California by the British Knight and explorer Sir Francis Drake in 1580, when his ship sailed along the west coast of America and stopped in the region.
Published science and empirical data prove that wild horses play an essential role in managing grassland ecosystems by reducing and maintaining grass and shrubs that present an annual major wildfire hazard.
The BLM initiated the roundup in 2020, intending to capture 200 of the estimated 230 horses that live in Pokegama HMA.
Before initiating a roundup, the BLM is required to conduct an excess determination as required by the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act (WHBA), and conduct a review of the decision under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The BLM must also provide the public with reasonable notice and an opportunity to comment, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), BLM guidance applicable to decisions to remove wild horses from the range, and/or NEPA. The BLM has failed to comply with these established requirements, making the roundup illegal.
“BLM has a history of cutting corners and ignoring their legal obligations in a rush to get rid of wild horses in the west,” Professor Michael Harris, director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Vermont Law and Graduate School said. “Horses are native to the west and are an important aspect of the ecosystem. We need to work to increase their numbers to ensure healthy, stable herds.”
"Wild horses are significantly more ecologically and economically appropriate for wildfire grazing in wilderness areas over ruminant livestock like cattle, sheep, and goats. Unlike horses that reseed the plant and grass seeds they consume, thereby completing the life-cycle of the flora, ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats) do not. Cattle, sheep and goats are known by science to strip-off native flora due to their highly effective digestive systems, which digest the majority of the plant and grass seeds they consume. This has a profound negative secondary effect on native fauna, including small mammals, birds and insects, including pollinators, that depend upon native flora for their survival" said WHFB founder and executive director William E. Simpson II. Simpson is a naturalist and wild horse ethologist who lives among and has studied the region's wild horses for the past 8-years, and has published a Study and numerous articles on his findings.
Numerous scientific studies prove that horses help promote healthy vegetation growth that can also benefit other co-evolved animals and insects, including deer, a host of other mammals, birds, and pollinators. Horses do this while reducing and preventing the built-up grasses and vegetation that often fuel massive fires in the west.
The still-pending lawsuit seeks a declaration from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the BLM has violated the WHBA and/or NEPA, and further requests that the Court issue a Temporary Restraining Order to stop the removal of wild horses from in and around the Pokegama HMA.
To accommodate Plaintiff’s filing of a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, BLM had agreed to “pause” the roundup and removal of wild horses from the HMA until at least October 24, 2022. BLM filed a response to that Motion on October 21, 2022.
According to BLM’s Wild Horse Gathers and Removals Webpage for the 2020 Pokegama roundup (https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/herdmanagement/gathers-and-removals/oregon/2020-pokegama-wild-horse-gather), no horses were captured or removed from the Range from September 20, 2022 through November 20, 2022. However, on November 21, 2022, four (4) horses (2 stallion, 1 mare, 1 foal) were gathered. On November 21, 2022, no horses were gathered, but one (1) horse was “acutely injured" and died as a result of the BLM’s illegal bait and trap action.
Concerned wild horse advocates/taxpayers may wish to contact the BLM District Manager (Todd Forbes) in Lakeview, Oregon who authorized and is overseeing the alleged illegal Pokegama bait and trap operation, which as science shows, is increasing the risk for catastrophic wildfire in the region.
Todd Forbes - Oregon BLM Lakeview District Manager; Ph. 541-947-6100 / email; firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa L. McNee - BLM Lakeview Public Affairs Specialist; Ph. 541-219-9180 / email; email@example.com
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