Cloud Wild Stallion Herd Photo by Tamara Gooch.

Federal Court forces Interior Dept to consider scientific evidence regarding Wild Horse management

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Judge Rejects Gov’t Attempt to Ignore Expert Declarations on Negative Impacts of Plan to Castrate Wild Nevada Stallions

Washington, DC – May 10, 2012 – The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has rejected an attempt by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to withhold and ignore critical scientific evidence in its decision-making process for the implementation of a precedent-setting plan to castrate wild stallions. At issue were expert declarations submitted to the BLM from leading experts in wild horse behavior and biology outlining the devastating impacts of castration on the health and natural behaviors of wild free-roaming stallions and wild horse herds.

The ruling is part of litigation filed in December 2011 by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), Western Watersheds Project and The Cloud Foundation challenging the BLM’s illegal plan to castrate hundreds of wild stallions in eastern Nevada’s Pancake Complex, as well as to eliminate wild horses from the Jake’s Wash Herd Management Area, which lies within the Complex. The ruling on this case will have widespread implication for thousands of the remaining wild horses living free and wild on public lands.

The Honorable U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell stated in her 23-page opinion (pdf) that the agency “may not simply remain studiously ignorant of material scientific evidence well known to the agency and brought directly to its attention in timely-filed comments.” She decisively rejected the BLM’s attempt to exclude the expert declarations from the agency’s decision-making process and affirmed that the Court would consider the “material scientific evidence” contained in the declarations as in future rulings in the case.

“The BLM went to great lengths to avoid considering scientific information provided by leading wild horse experts,” said Suzanne Roy, director of AWHPC. “The agency is not interested in science, it’s only interest is clearing our public lands of wild horses to make room for livestock grazing and other commercial interests.”

“This is yet another example of the agency’s epidemic refusal to incorporate science in its management of wild horse and burros herds,” said Ginger Kathrens, executive director of The Cloud Foundation. “We commend Judge Howell for seeing through the BLM’s thinly veiled excuses and standing up for science and the right of the public to have input into government management decisions.”

The scientific evidence submitted by Plaintiffs that the BLM attempted to ignore included a declaration from Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, the Director of Science and Conservation Biology at Zoo Montana and a foremost authority on wildlife reproductive biology.

He stated:

“The very essence of the wild horse, that is, what makes it a wild horse, is the social organization and social behaviors. Geldings (castrated male horses) no longer exhibit the natural behaviors of non-castrated stallions. We know this to be true from hundreds of years experience with gelded domestic horses. Furthermore, gelded stallions will not keep their bands together, which is an integral part of a viable herd. These social dynamics were molded by millions of years of evolution, and will be destroyed if the BLM returns castrated horses to the HMAs. . . . Castrating horses will effectively remove the biological and physiological controls that prompt these stallions to behave like wild horses. This will negatively impact the place of the horse in the social order of the band and the herd.”

The other declarations, submitted by Dr. Allen Rutberg of the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Anne Perkins of Carroll College in Montana; and Dr. Bruce Nock, a faculty member at Washington University School of Medicine provided further scientific information about the impacts of castration on wild stallions and wild horse herds.

Other plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit challenging aspects of the Pancake roundup include wildlife ecologist Craig Downer and photographer Arla Ruggles, who enjoy wild horse viewing in the HMAs and whose professional and aesthetic interests will be harmed if the BLM moves forward with its plan. The plaintiffs are being represented by the Washington D.C. public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal. A previous lawsuit filed in July 2011 by the firm prompted the BLM to withdraw a similar plan to release hundreds of castrated wild stallions in two HMAs in Wyoming.

The complaint alleges that the BLM’s plan for the Pancake Complex violates the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act. The complaint can be read here (pdf).

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Source: The Cloud Foundation Press Release

About the Plaintiffs:

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 45 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.

Western Watersheds Project is a non-profit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation. The group works to influence and improve public lands management in 8 western states with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250,000,000 acres of western public lands.

The Cloud Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of wild horses and burros on our Western public lands with a focus on protecting Cloud’s herd in the Pryor Mountains of Montana.

9 thoughts on “Federal Court forces Interior Dept to consider scientific evidence regarding Wild Horse management”

  1. Jane is right, this is not management , what they are doing is eradication, there is a huge difference between managing and eradicating, You say A stallion can still exhibit stallion tendancies, may I ask what kind of Freedom is that for him, how will the great herds replenish itself if all stallions are castrated????? There is no one here that is against HONEST Management of our Wild Mjustangs if they in fact can prove the need for, at that said there is no need to castrate the stallions, if that kind of management is needed they can use birth control to the mares, dont you understand that to castrate all the STALLIONS is complete Eradication not management !!!!!!!!!!!!!


    1. You got it Arlene. The BLM has only one motive and it has nothing to do with the welfare of the Wild Ones.

      To tell you the truth there is nothing that surprises me these days. There is definitely more bad in this world than good.

      How depressing.


  2. Horses are livestock and changing that designation would only add to the problem of excess horses. People using horses as part of their livlyhood and lifestyle would make major adjustments once they were pets and not part of their livestock operation. And I beg to differ on the behavior of castraded stallions. It is well known that MANY still exibit stallion tendencies after castration and would continue to do so if castrated with that purpose in mind. Seems to me you that are against the management of horses are the ones working towards eliminating them


    1. THESE horses are NOT livestock. They are wild horses as stated by Congress and they are supposed to be protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Act of 1971. The BLM is illegally removing these horses by ignoring science and distorting the “multiple use” rules.

      Whether castrated stallions would maintain stallion like behavior is not the entire issue anyway. These castrates – no matter how they ACTED – would never produce foals, and the BLM would make sure to castrate so many they the herds could not maintain themselves – especially if they continued the roundups.

      We don’t object to “management.” But the BLM has NEVER been about legitimate management. They – or their Public Lands cattle rancher masters – want the horses GONE, and that is what they are working toward.


  3. Kudos to Judge Howell on this one , a huge win for the horses , this man knows his job and how do to it !!!!!!


  4. This is good news but again, we need an intervention for the domestic raised horses like Quarter Horses and Thorobreds and quickly. We need a legal intervention which allows the immediate seizure and protection of any horse destined for slaughter or in a situation involving abuse.

    Until transport to slaughter ends in the US and state categorization of equines is made into domestic or companion animal, horses will be considered as a category of livestock as cattle are and will remain at risk. Ky even has dual categories for its own horses. OH shows horses as livestock only.

    We need enforcement of law and Congress to act.

    I hope this federal intervention can protect the wild ones at least for a while. It gives some time.


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