LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — When it comes right down to it, wild horse advocates and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) disagree on the word “humane.”

A 24-page argument filed Monday in U.S. District Court shows the BLM believes it’s following the rules that were established in 2015 for wild horse roundups. The court filing was in response to a lawsuit by Wild Horse Education that is seeking to stop a roundup currently in progress south of Elko in northeastern Nevada.

The group’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order won’t produce a court ruling until Thursday at the earliest. Meanwhile, the BLM is well on its way to finishing the roundup, capturing more than 1,500 of the 2,000 horses it intends to take off the range and put up for adoption.

The Antelope Complex-North roundup began on July 9, and Wild Horse Education filed a complaint with the court on July 26 after observing the roundup. So far, a total of 31 horses have died in two roundups and more than 2,700 horses have been gathered.

Long-running feud

For the BLM, it’s another in a long line of lawsuits. The agency insists it is following Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program (CAWP) rules, and the response goes through the checkboxes for the court. The lawsuit contains “sensational allegations,” the BLM said.

“BLM has conducted the Antelope Complex gathers humanely, within the meaning of the WHBA (Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act) and its internal policies, and Plaintiffs have failed to make a clear showing otherwise to warrant emergency relief,” according to the response.

For the agency, “humane” is measured by following the rules, and a 1% death rate is to be expected. But it’s that 1% and the circumstances of what happens when horses die that is really at the heart of the lawsuit.

“BLM agrees that the death of even one wild horse during a gather is heartbreaking … . However, due to the risks associated with gathering wild animals, deaths cannot always be avoided,” the response says.

Points of contention

The BLM addresses each of the points in the lawsuit including: roundups during high temperatures that endanger horses, concerns for foals during helicopter operations and location and construction of traps. The BLM spells out its compliance with the long-established rules.

In particular, BLM lawyers responded to Wild Horse Education’s claim that the agency showed a pattern of repeatedly denying public access to view the capture and handling of wild horses. BLM claims they are providing access as required, and access cannot be granted when traps are on private land.

Credit: Wild Horse Education

On Tuesday, another lawsuit was filed. This one was in Oregon, where the Cloud Foudation has sued the U.S. Department of the Interior “to address the lack of transparency at roundups conducted by the Bureau of Land Management.” A news release claims BLM’s practices in restricting public access obscure the truth of what’s happening.

The new lawsuit seeks “meaningful observation” using real-time camera monitoring of operations during roundups.

“The public has the right to see how our federal government is using our tax dollars and how the agency is treating America’s wild horses and burros,” Cloud Foundation founder Ginger Kathrens said.

Stallion’s death

In Nevada, the death of one stallion brought a storm of attention. BLM provided these details in how they handled the situation:

“This particular stallion unfortunately caught his leg between the top two rails of the panels as he attempted to jump out of the trap, but still managed to run away quickly. The wranglers rode after the severely injured stallion until he went into an area that was too steep and unsafe for the wranglers, at which point the helicopter helped redirect the stallion to an area where the wranglers could rope and humanely euthanize him,” BLM’s response says.

Credit: Wild Horse Education

“Plaintiffs’ assertion that the stallion should have been shot at a distance … is extremely reckless and dangerous. As acknowledged by Plaintiffs, public observers were in the area when the stallion escaped. Shooting at a fleeing horse takes a skilled, direct shot in any circumstances, and in this circumstance could have seriously endangered the lives of the nearby public and BLM staff,” according to the BLM.

“Furthermore, there is no guarantee that a gunshot at that distance could have humanely euthanized the horse, rather than lead to more severe injury. … Far from being the most humane method, Plaintiffs’ suggestion could actually have led to more death and injury.”