CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wild horse advocates are seeking a court order to block the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from staging a roundup in the checkerboard region of southwestern Wyoming later this month.
Groups including the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign this week asked U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal in Cheyenne to block the scheduled roundup of nearly 500 horses set to begin Oct. 18.
The groups asked Freudenthal to block the roundup until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rules on the groups' pending appeal of a 2014 roundup that saw over 1,200 horses removed from the same area.
"This sets a terrible precedent that jeopardizes the safety and future of wild horses across the West," Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said in a release this week.
Bill Eubanks, a Fort Collins, Colorado lawyer representing the groups, said the BLM has treated public lands in the checkerboard area essentially as private.
"Ordinarily speaking, anywhere in the American West, before BLM can remove a horse from public lands, it would have to comply with certain statutory procedures," Eubanks said Friday. "And here, BLM said, no, we're just going to treat a million acres of public lands as private."
Freudenthal this week directed the BLM to file a response by Tuesday to the groups' request.
The Rock Springs Grazing Association has pressed the government in recent years to remove the horses, saying they're damaging the range. The association represents ranchers in the disputed area, where federal and private lands are split in a checkerboard pattern.
Attempts to reach a spokeswoman for the BLM in Wyoming were not immediately successful on Friday.
A federal magistrate on Friday entered orders allowing the state of Wyoming and the Rock Springs Grazing Association to intervene in the case.
Peter Michael, Wyoming attorney general, said Friday that the state entered the case because it wants to have the federal government abide by federal law "designed to protect the rights of private property owners impacted by wild horses straying from public lands onto that private property."
Jim Magagna is executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Many members of the Rock Springs Grazing Association are members of the state organization.
"Some of the horse groups tend to portray this as a horses-versus-cows issue, and it's really not," Magagna said. "It's a resource management issue and the damage that's done is equally harmful to the horses themselves as it is to wildlife."
Magagna said wild horses can't be gathered in the spring, when they're foaling and also can't be rounded up in the winter because of conditions. He said members of the Rock Springs Grazing Association are concerned that if the courts delay the roundup set for this month, it will mean the horses will stay on their lands until next fall.