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Judge Rejects Government Attempt to Ignore Expert Declarations on Negative Impacts of Plan to Castrate Wild Nevada Stallions
May 10, 2012
Washington, DC – 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 that castration would have 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 implications 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 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.” (Emphasis added.) 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. The BLM'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.”
Among the scientific evidence submitted by Plaintiffs and ignored by BLM was 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.
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.