Environmental & Wild Horse Organizations File for Injunction to Block Wyoming Wild Horse Roundup

Scientist & Experts Weigh in Against Mass Mustang Removal & Sterilization Plan

Washington, DC--Today the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), a national coalition, and Western Watersheds Project, a leading environmental organization and filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson requesting a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and Preliminary Injunction (PI) to halt the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from implementing an unprecedented plan that initiates the destruction of two wild horse populations in southwestern Wyoming.

Supporting the motion are leading scientists and experts in the fields of wild horse behavior, genetics, biology and reproduction, who filed expert declarations in the case outlining the irreparable harm to individual horses, the herds and the permanent destruction of "wild" and "free-roaming" behaviors which would occur if the government's plan is not stopped.

At issue is the BLM’s decision to convert federally-protected wild horse populations in the one-million-acre White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Areas (HMAs) to “minimally-reproducing” herds by removing 90 percent of the wild horse population and returning only castrated stallions to the range. The White Mountain/Little Colorado roundup is scheduled to begin in mid-August 2011.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this week by the Washington, DC-based public interest law firm Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal. Other plaintiffs include Donna and Greg Duckworth, a local Green River, Wyoming couple who enjoy wild horse viewing in the HMAs, and Carol Walker, a well-known wildlife photographer who has photographed the wild horses in this region for many years. The complaint alleges that the action “will irreparably disrupt and destroy the social organization, natural wild and free-roaming behavior and viability of these herds,” in violation of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRHBA). In addition, the agency’s failure to “solicit public comment or . . . analyze or explain the environmental consequences of its decision” flagrantly violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the complaint charges.

Excerpts from the Expert Testimony

Neda DeMayo, founder of Return to Freedom, a sanctuary for wild horses in Lompoc, California: "In light of what I have observed, releasing gelded horses onto the range would be not only inhumane, but also harmful to the herd. It is one thing for gelded studs to live in our small and protected sanctuary, where we supplement food and water as necessary and where the horses enjoy a mild climate. It is quite another matter for geldings to survive in the harsh environment and vast regions of the open range where wild horses live. Survival in the desert often requires horses to range over long distances between forage areas and water. Without the energy and drive that is provided by testosterone, a gelded stallion will not have the same ability to survive.

Jay Kirkpatrick, Ph. D., Director of The Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana explained, “[t]he very essence of the wild horse . . . is the social organization and social behaviors. Geldings (castrated male horses) will no longer exhibit the natural behaviors of non-castrated stallions,” and “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.”

Ann Perkins, Ph.D., Professor of Anthrozoology and Psychology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana: "Castrating free‐roaming wild stallions and releasing them to public lands is essentially creating populations of 'domestic horses' on public land which has no value for scientists or the public.... If you castrate stallions and release them back into a wild herd, they will behave much like domesticated animals because their physiology will be irreparably altered.”

Lori Eggert, Ph.D., Research Associate for the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History since 2003 and Assistant Professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at University of Missouri: "In my professional opinion, the proposed BLM action will leave the White Mountain and Little Colorado herds unviable without significant future intervention. It does not appear that the BLM has analyzed the impact of its chosen course of action on the genetic viability of these herds, which, in my opinion, could be detrimental to their ability to survive over the long term."

Allen Rutberg, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Environment and Population Health at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and former appointee to the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board for the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture (1998-2000): "The proposed herds will no longer be "wild horses" from a conservation, population ecology, or behavioral viewpoint. The castrated males will also not retain their "free-roaming nature," except in the literal sense that they will be able to move around the HMA's without physical restraint because these horses will not be hormonally prompted to protect their mares, compete with other stallions for reproductive mates, or cover as much geographical distance as they would in their natural state. The castrated horses will behave much more like domesticated horses, with diminished aggressiveness and competitiveness. If the newly designed action is implemented, members of the public who view horses at the White Mountain and Little Colorado HMA's will be misled and mis-educated about the true nature of wild horses and their behavior. Non-castrated males will not behave like fully intact wild stallions which, as described above, will also adversely impact the behaviors of the herds as a whole."

Bruce Nock, Ph.d., Associate Professor of Neurobiology in Psychology, Washington University School of Medicine: “[r]emoving a horse’s testes will have irreversible effects on both the individual horse and the herd. Castrate a horse, and it will no longer exhibit ‘wild’ or ‘free-roaming’ behavior ... this unnatural physiology will undoubtedly affect the horse’s ability to survive and compete in the wild.”

Copies of the expert declarations, TRO and complaint are available upon request. Photographs of the White Mountain and Little Colorado wild horses can be found here.