West Douglas Wild Horses dodge another BLM bullet

DENVER (Sept. 20, 2012)—A Federal court decision handed down last week gave the West Douglas Wild Horse Herd another reprieve. Honorable Judge Collyer held that she could not rule on the issue of whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can zero out the West Douglas herd until BLM issues a decision to round up the horses. Plaintiffs contended that the Court could review and hold illegal BLM’s long-held land use planning decisions issued since the 1970’s and most recently in 2005 to eradicate the herd, especially in light of the fact that BLM has cancelled roundups of the horses once Plaintiffs challenged them in court—a classic example of BLM gamesmanship.

The Court held, however, that the issue would not be ripe for judicial review until BLM once again issues a decision to round up the horses. Judge Collyer’s order explained that the West Douglas Wild Horse Herd Area has been managed for oil and gas extraction, not for wild horses, and that this BLM management strategy is contrary to the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

In addition, the court saw fit to note that the wild horses of West Douglas are a separate herd from the Piceance/East Douglas herd, a herd on the other side of the Colorado State Highway 139. “BLM claimed these herds were one and the same, and that removing the horses on the west side of Highway 139 would not jeopardize the ‘herd’ as a whole,” explains Toni Moore, a long time advocate for the preservation of the West Douglas Herd and a plaintiff in the case. “But BLM’s own historic documents concluded these herds were separate herd areas at the time the Act was passed, a fact that Judge Collyer did not miss.”

Lawsuits to protect the West Douglas horses, brought by Colorado Wild Horse & Burro Coalition, Front Range Equine Rescue, Habitat for Horses, the Cloud Foundation, and advocates Don and Toni Moore, have been going on for years. These legal actions have successfully thwarted BLM’s repeated attempts to remove all the horses in the area for a litany of reasons, including the difficulty of managing wild horses in such rugged terrain, to inadequate forage to maintain a viable herd. “Here is the crux of the issue: BLM wants to manage the area for welfare livestock and oil and gas extraction—not mustangs,” explains Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of the Colorado-based Cloud Foundation. “They forget that a law prevents this from happening. Future attempts to zero out the horses will result in litigation to protect them.”