Last week a coalition of wild horse and animal protection organizations filed suit in federal district court to halt the ongoing helicopter roundup operation by the Bureau of Land Management at the Pancake Complex in central Nevada. The action by Animal Wellness Action, CANA Foundation and Wild Horse Education alleges BLM has failed to take the necessary steps to “maintain a thriving ecological balance on the public lands” by conducting a Herd Management Area Plan as required by law before any removal of horses from ranges can occur. BLM has consistently ignored this legal mandate in its ongoing effort to rid America’s open ranges of wild horses across the country.
The case also highlights the many problems arising from the BLM’s campaign of mass roundups that has resulted in hundreds of deaths and the placement of tens of thousands of federally protected horses and burros in barren BLM holding facilities at enormous expense to American taxpayers. It also seeks to force the agency to allow meaningful public observation of the roundup operations and access to the holding facilities where the animals are incarcerated after being removed from their rangeland home.
“Using drought as a fig leaf for its illegal actions, the Bureau of Land Management is depopulating the West of its wild horses and burros herd by herd and burning through taxpayer dollars with their endless roundups and swelling holding facilities,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “It’s then allowing ranchers to pour cattle and sheep onto the land, making a mockery of their false claims about horse impacts on the range.”
The Pancake Complex roundup targets 2,030 wild horses for capture in a herd management area exceeding 1.1 million acres. The operation has already resulted in the deaths of at least 10 wild horses, including a young foal who was relentlessly chased by a BLM helicopter contractor after it snapped and broke its leg.
“The law recognizes the rightful place of wild horses and burros in the West, but the BLM treats them as interlopers,” said Manda Kalimian, founder of the CANA Foundation. “The prehistorical record shows that horses thrived on the continent for eons and the peer-reviewed science in our day shows that horses can revive our western grasslands at current densities.”
“Removal is not management,” said Laura Leigh, President of Wild Horse Education. “Skipping management planning does not make a roundup plan magically become a management plan. This program remains unaccountable to the taxpayer and the public resource.”
WHE has been documenting the execution of the operation since it began Jan. 11. On the first day, a colt suffered a horrific broken leg and another young colt was run over and trampled in the trap corrals. In addition, heavily pregnant mares are being stampeded by low-flying helicopters over wet, slippery terrain as foaling season begins on the range.
A recurring theme in the helicopter roundups over the past year has been the efforts made by the BLM to prevent public observers from watching all aspects of the operations. It has been common for the agency to position observers up to two miles from the traps where the horses are captured, and to hide the traps behind hills and ridges. Once consigned to long-term holding facilities, most of which are on private property, many of the horses will never be seen again, and the concerned public may never know their fate. Many of the wild horses and burros end up in kill pens and slaughter auctions through the BLM sales and Adoption Incentive Program, which is routinely exploited by unscrupulous kill-buyers and their collaborators.
“Each day our team documents wild horses I have followed through generations. I will likely never see them again.” added Leigh, “We are losing one of the last large herds we have left. I am losing companions I have known for a very long time. This roundup tears my heart apart every single day.”
Here’s the court information — docket number: Case 3:22-cv-00034 filed in Reno District Court.
About Animal Wellness Action
Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization with a mission of helping animals by promoting legal standards forbidding cruelty. We champion causes that alleviate the suffering of companion animals, farm animals, and wildlife. We advocate for policies to stop dogfighting and cockfighting and other forms of malicious cruelty and to confront factory farming and other systemic forms of animal exploitation. To prevent cruelty, we promote enacting good public policies, and we work to enforce those policies. To enact good laws, we must elect good lawmakers, and that’s why we remind voters which candidates care about our issues and which ones don’t. We believe helping animals helps us all.