LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The conflict over wild horses in Nevada has raged for decades, but a pair of lawsuits are taking the argument back the site of the very first official federal roundup following the passage of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
The Stone Cabin herd is ground zero in the fight over the Bureau of Land Management’s constant battle to control the population of wild horses in the state. The horses roam the hills east of Tonopah on land controlled by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.
It’s also home to the Colvin ranching family, who settled in the area in 1883. Tom Colvin Jr. sued the BLM last month because they weren’t moving fast enough to round up horses on land where he has permits to graze cattle.
And on Wednesday, Laura Leigh and the nonprofit Wild Horse Education filed another lawsuit to stop any roundup from moving forward until BLM complies with laws — specifically, the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Administrative Procedure Act
“For far too long BLM has ignored all of the data-collection, studies and range improvements for wild horses they approved in the 1983 management plan,” Wild Horse Education President Laura Leigh said in a news release. “Instead, the agency simply continues to fragment habitat designated for use by wild horses to favor private profit pockets while the horses and habitat continue to suffer. BLM cannot be allowed to continue to continue to make excuses.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by Las Vegas law firm De Castroverde Law Group and California’s Greenfire Law, PC, headquartered in Berkeley.
“This is an important case,” Danielle Holt of De Castroverde Law Group said. “I am honored to be representing these issues surrounding such a significant and historic herd in this state.”
Wild Horse Education wants BLM to stick to its own rules, set out 40 years ago in the Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP). The organization accuses the BLM of ignoring those rules when it issued an Environmental Assessment in April.
Moreover, “BLM has never provided any data that demonstrates any removal of wild horses in the area has ever helped achieve an improvement in ecological balance and removals of wild horses have tended to coincide with expanding livestock ranges through water improvements for livestock or expanding extraction and oil and gas sale leases,” the group contends.
“I have seen time and again where BLM ignores efforts by wild horse advocates to gain any actual management plan for the herd and fix historic deficits. Instead, they will often jump into a settlement with a permittee without hesitation,” Leigh said. “Advocacy has been waiting 40 years for BLM to follow through on the promises made in 1983. This historic herd has been neglected by BLM far too long and must be managed, not just removed.”
In announcing the lawsuit, Leigh’s organization invoked the name of a woman who pioneered the effort to help the herds.
Velma Johnston, aka “Wild Horse Annie,” was a Nevada native whose advocacy drove the creation of protection laws for wild horses and burros in the United States, according to Wild Horse Education.
Johnston was at Stone Cabin to oversee the 1975 roundup. “She often wrote that the ‘Stone Cabin Grey’ was one of her favorite wild horses. What has become the BLM Adoption program was begun at Stone Cabin,” according to the news release.
BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning, Nevada State BLM Director Jon Raby, the U.S. Department of Interior and the BLM are named as defendants.
The lawsuit asks the court to set aside BLM’s April Environmental Assessment and to maintain jurisdiction over the matter until BLM follows the rules. The lawsuit also seeks attorneys’ fees and court costs, as well as a request for “further relief to which plaintiffs may be entitled.