By Jamie Leary
DENVER (CBS4)– There were two cases presented to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Monday, both involving the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board and the management of wild horse populations in Wyoming.
The first case presented Monday is regarding private land owners and whether the BLM should be allowed to use a request by those land owners to remove wild horses that cross into private property. Some organizations call the request an “excuse” to wipeout the wild horse population from both private and public and claim that what’s currently happening in what’s called the Wyoming checkerboard; an area which contains acres of unfenced land alternating between private and public.
“We’re in court today to defend wild horses from a concerted assault on their freedom by the Rock Springs Grazing Association and other public lands ranchers who essentially want public lands to themselves for taxpayer subsidized livestock grazing and they want to wipe out the wild horses that are federally protected on our public lands,” said Suzanne Roy with The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC).
The Rock Springs Grazing Association says the BLM, over the last 40 years hasn’t been able to effectively manage the wild horse population in the checkerboard area due to politics, money and the difficulty of the program in general. The association 40 years ago agreed to allow the horses to graze up to a certain number but says the BLM hasn’t been able to keep the numbers low enough. Now it wants out of that deal and the horses gone.
“Well what should happen and what we expect to happen is that BLM will continue to gather on the checkerboard and they’ll just have to keep coming back because the horses travel everywhere throughout the whole 40-by-80 mile strip of land, there’s public land to the south, there’s public land to the north and most of it’s not fenced so the horses will just keep coming back to private land, it’s a very difficult program to manage,” said Constance Brooks with the Rock Springs Grazing Association in Wyoming.
In the second case presented Monday, the state of Wyoming is suing the BLM demanding the agency remove hundreds of horses from the federal land within the state. The AWHPC is siding with the BLM, both are trying to intervene to prevent the requested roundup arguing that the BLM should make the ultimate decision and not the state.
“The government and we are saying that the BLM has clear digression to determine whether or not horses need to be removed and that an arbitrary number that was established 20 years ago is not sufficient justification for removing horses. They have to determine, based on current information, that an over population exists and that it needs to be removed to maintain the thriving ecological balance,” said Roy.
Eric Peterson, the Wyoming Senior Assistant Attorney General reacted to Monday’s arguments, “It’s a difficult case. The BLM needs to balance the issues and I think they’ve done a good job here and I think the court understood that in trying to maintain the horse herds but also to protect the rights of private land owners.”
And while the AWHPC believes the ulterior motive is to wipe out the wild horse population, Peterson says this is not the case.
“The BLM’s responsibility is to take a viable horse population on the range, which is required by the law, which they’re doing but also to respect the rights of private land owners which they’re doing here. I think the U.S. Federal Government has done a good job of striking a balance here and the state of Wyoming is supporting them because they want to make sure their citizens’ rights are protected.“
He continued to comment on the issue of the horses grazing on private land, “Your private land owners and the BLM are in a bit of a difficult spot and I think what you heard today is the best solution to a very difficult problem.”
A decision on both cases is expected to come sometime within the next few weeks.