CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wild horse preservation groups are challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's plan to remove about 800 horses from areas in southern Wyoming.
The federal agency recently announced plans to start removing the horses from lands within the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek herd management areas later this month.
The agency said it planned to remove the horses at the request of private landowners and to comply with a federal court order that ended a lawsuit brought by the Rock Springs Grazing Association against the federal government.
The grazing association, a group of private livestock operators who own some of the land where the horses roam, filed a lawsuit in 2011 seeking to force the government to remove all wild horses from an area of roughly 2 million acres. The suit covered private lands in a so-called "checkerboard" area, a swath of mixed federal and private land that runs along the old railroad route across the southern Wyoming.
Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign headquartered in North Carolina, said Monday the groups intend to ask a federal judge to grant an injunction blocking the roundup.
"The current problem is that they're proposing this roundup in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act," Roy said. "They haven't done any analysis or allowed for any comment. They're going to bring these populations down below the established level, which is in conflict with their own land-use plans and the Wild Horse Act."
Roy said that if the horses were rounded up, a few could be placed for adoption, but most likely would end up at BLM's long-term horse-holding facilities that already hold tens of thousands of animals.
Congress in 1971 enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act establishing protections for the animals.
"Congress recognized them as living symbols of America's historic past and western heritage," Roy said. She said the populations that would be affected by the planned roundups are about half of Wyoming's remaining wild horses.
The following groups and individuals filed a federal lawsuit Friday in Cheyenne challenging the roundup plan: The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, the Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, Carol Walker and Ginger Kathrens of Colorado, and Kimerlee Curyl of California.
"We would like the BLM to explore alternatives to completely eliminating wild horses from the Wyoming Checkerboard, which is over 2 million acres of public and private land, and to explore alternative solutions, which could involve land swaps to create contiguous habitat and accommodations for these horses instead of wiping them out," Roy said.
Tom Gorey, spokesman for the BLM in Washington, D.C., said Monday the agency had no comment on the pending lawsuit.
An attempt to reach a spokesman for the grazing association wasn't immediately successful.