Restraining order sought for Nevada horse roundup | NevadaAppeal.com
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Restraining order sought for Nevada horse roundup

SANDRA CHEREB
Associated Press Writer

People trying to stop wild horse roundups in northeast Nevada have renewed their legal opposition with a new lawsuit and a temporary restraining order request after seven horses herded by a helicopter died of dehydration and another broke its leg and was put down.

The latest document filed late Monday in U.S. District Court in Reno said the plaintiff agreed to “stop the presses” on the lawsuit if the Department of Interior would postpone the gather on the Owyhee complex in northern Elko County until mid-August, after most foals in the herd are born.

According to the motion from Reno attorney Gordon Cowan, a Justice Department lawyer refused.

BLM Director Bob Abbey on Monday suspended the helicopter roundup because seven horses died over the weekend after the first day of the gather. Another horse was shot and killed after breaking a leg in a holding pen.

The agency blamed the seven deaths on dehydration or water intoxication, a condition that occurs when dehydrated animals consume excessive quantities of water. It can cause colic and brain swelling.

BLM spokeswoman Heather Emmons in Reno said dehydration is difficult to detect and the mustangs otherwise looked healthy.

“It’s not something visible. You can’t see it,” she said.

Emmons said surveys showed water holes in the range had dwindled considerably in recent days and weeks.

Horse protection groups said the deaths were predictable, given the hot summer sun and the weakened state of foals and mares that recently gave or were about to give birth. They continued a chorus of protest Tuesday.

“In light of yesterday’s devastating news, we call for an immediate stop to summer roundups,” said Ginger Kathrens, Director of The Cloud Foundation, a Colorado-based wild horse group.

In the Reno lawsuit, Laura Leigh, a writer, artist and coordinator for The Cloud Foundation, argued the BLM violated its own policy not to conduct helicopter roundups until at least six weeks after peak foaling season ends.

Horse groups contend that would mean after mid-August.

But Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman in Washington, D.C., said most horses give birth from mid-April to mid-May, which would allow helicopter use after June 30.

Leigh stated in the lawsuit that days before the gather began, observers saw several new foals and mares that had just given or appeared about to give birth.

Her complaint also argued the BLM’s closure of 27,000 acres of public lands where the roundup was taking place amounted to censorship in violation of the First Amendment, and prevented her from observing the gather in a watchdog role.

Gorey said the BLM doesn’t comment on litigation.

“This broad closure and exclusion of the public and press by the BLM results in an impermissible prior restraint of free speech and censoring of the press, or journalists and of the public,” it said.

Another group, In Defense of Animals, and wildlife ecologist Craig Downer filed a separate petition last week with the Interior Board of Land Appeals seeking to stop the roundup.

Emmons said 32 horses were herded by helicopter Saturday about a mile from a temporary holding corral, and another 196 were driven about eight miles.

Four animals were found dead Sunday morning, and three others later died.

Emmons said the other animals would be kept at temporary pens and given food and water until veterinarians determine they are stable enough to be moved to corrals for adoption or long-term holding pens elsewhere in the country.

The BLM had said it intends to remove up to 1,200 horses from the area.

Horse protection groups were unable to block the removal of nearly 2,000 horses from the Calico mountains north of Reno earlier this year.

The BLM says the roundups are necessary because the wild horse population is growing so rapidly that the animals are running out of food and damaging the range.