Several animal advocacy and environmental protection nonprofits have sued the federal government following the release of a plan that will remove 60 percent of Wyoming’s wild horses and slash their designated habitat by nearly half.

The BLM released a decision in May that now permits only 464 to 846 wild horses across more than 2.8 million acres of land, of which the BLM manages about 1.9 million acres. 

Under the plan, every single wild horse in the Great Divide Basin and Salt Wells Creek areas will be removed. 

Reduced numbers of wild horses will be permitted to remain in Adobe Town and the White Mountain Herd Management Area, but they’ll also face “population control” measures including spaying, gelding, and contraceptives, according to BLM documents.

The decision also removes about 2 million acres of designated wild horse habitat — cutting the total protected land for horses by about 43 percent.

The BLM said their decision was necessary to maintain a “thriving natural ecological balance” and promote “balanced multiple use goals and objectives” while also complying with a 2013 consent decree with the Rock Springs Grazing Association, whose private land allotments create a “checkerboard” interspersed with public lands.

But animal welfare advocates see it differently — alleging the decision violates the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act while catering to private livestock ranchers.

 “The decision threatens to undermine federal protections for wild horses across the West by setting a dangerous precedent for private landowners to dictate whether federally protected wild horses will be allowed to live in their designated habitats on public lands,” said William S. Eubanks II, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), the Western Watersheds Project, the Animal Welfare Institute, wildlife photographers Kimerlee Curyl and Carol Walker and college professor Chad Hanson.

The BLM’s announced plan met with 26 protest letters during the public comment period, with the BLM denying or dismissing every single one and reporting that “BLM Wyoming had followed all applicable laws, regulations, and policies.” 

The approved plan will result in “the largest ever eradication of federally protected wild horses,” said Western Watershed Project’s Erik Molvar.

“This wild horse plan amendment is one more example of how the livestock industry uses the checkerboard to force its agenda regarding public lands and wildlife to maximize their private gain, to the detriment of the public interest,” Molvar said. “Enough is enough.”

The groups had suggested alternatives that would have allowed the federally-protected horses to remain, including reducing numbers of private livestock permitted to graze in the checkerboard area or resolving land disputes with land swaps or eminent domain. 

The BLM, in its response to public comments, said none of those alternatives were feasible. The wild horse advocates said their solutions weren’t considered seriously. 

“It’s a troubling decision by an administration that has claimed conservation of public lands as a priority,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director for the AWHC. “Our lawsuit challenges the BLM’s decision to elevate the private interests of the livestock industry over the public interest in protecting wild horses and the public lands where they live.”

Lady Freethinker is disappointed and grieved by this decision by the BLM. We thank everyone who signed our petition advocating for the Checkerboard’s horses, and we will continue to do all we can for wild horses and all animals!