Judge intends to let roundup continue, reject TRO
Associated Press Writer
RENO – A federal judge on Thursday said he intends to reject a temporary restraining order sought by animal rights activists to halt a wild-horse roundup in Northern Nevada after 13 mustangs died.
U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks said he’s influenced by a new U.S. Bureau of Land Management report concluding that more than 500 horses in northern Elko County could die of dehydration in the next week if the roundup doesn’t continue.
In a related development Thursday, In Defense of Animals, DreamCatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary and three individuals filed a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento, Calif., to stop the BLM’s plans to remove nearly 2,000 wild horses from the range north of Susanville, Calif.
Hicks, after a two-hour hearing, said he intends to issue a formal ruling today. On Wednesday, he issued an emergency order that prohibits the BLM from further roundups until the ruling is issued.
The BLM suspended the gather over the weekend when seven horses died of dehydration and water intoxication after being herded by helicopter on the first day of the roundup. The BLM on Thursday reported a mare became the 13th mustang to die after suffering from dehydration.
Hicks questioned BLM officials about their handling of the roundup and expressed concern over the number of deaths, saying it seemed “unusually high.”
But he said he was prepared to allow the roundup to continue after hearing about the BLM’s emergency measures to truck water to large bands of mustangs still on the range in the roundup area.
“It seems to me the greater evil would be to issue the TRO,” Hicks said.
Alan Shepherd, who heads the BLM’s wild horse program in Nevada, said a review team assembled by the agency has concluded the mortality rate of the herd could climb to 10 percent in the next couple of days and to 60 or 70 percent over the next week if the animals are not removed from the range.
He blamed the current mortality rate of 5 percent on drought and not the roundup. A total of 228 of 825 horses in the herd were rounded up over the weekend.
“We’re facing an emergency situation,” Shepherd said. “We’ve hauled 12,000 gallons of water to them, and they won’t come to the water even though they know it’s there.”
In her lawsuit, Laura Leigh, a writer, artist and coordinator for the horse advocacy group Cloud Foundation based in Colorado, argues the BLM violated its own policy not to conduct helicopter roundups until at least six weeks after peak foaling season ends.
She contends that would mean after mid-August, but the BLM maintains the restriction ended June 30.
Her lawyer, Gordon Cowan, said the BLM’s roundup of mares and foals in temperatures in the 90s was inhumane.
“When you conduct a helicopter roundup in the summer there will be consequences,” he said. “They should have seen it off the bat. In essence, it’s the wrong time for a roundup.”
Hicks said he was undecided how he would rule on another request by Leigh for greater access to the roundup. She argues that the BLM’s temporary closure of more than 42 square miles of public land while the gather takes place amounts to prior restraint of free speech, preventing her from observing the roundup in a watchdog role.
While acknowledging the validity of the agency’s concerns about public safety, Hicks said he thinks the public is entitled to a “very extensive viewing” of the roundup.
“It seems to me the opportunity for public viewing is very important. … She’s a worthy advocate,” he said.
In another roundup in Nevada over the winter, Leigh videotaped an injured foal being chased by a helicopter across the range. The foal was among 104 mustangs that died in the Calico Mountains Complex roundup, with the vast majority of the deaths occurring after they were sent to a holding facility in Fallon.
In the latest roundup, the BLM has said it intends to remove up to 1,200 horses from the area and make them available for adoption or send them to long-term holding facilities in the Midwest.
The BLM says the roundups are necessary because the mustang population is growing so rapidly that the animals are running out of food and damaging the range.