Nevada Wild Horse Roundup Sparks Legal Controversy


The U.S. government’s ongoing capture of thousands of wild horses in Nevada has sparked a legal controversy, as 31 mustangs have died in a weekslong roundup. Opponents of the operation say it is illegal and should be stopped, while federal land managers say it is necessary to protect the ecological health of public rangeland.

The roundup, which began on July 9 and is scheduled to run through Aug. 22, involves using helicopters and wranglers on horseback to chase the free-roaming animals into makeshift corrals in the high-desert. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to remove about 6,000 horses from the area, which it says is overpopulated and suffering from drought.

However, horse advocates say the roundup is inhumane and based on outdated environmental reviews. They have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Reno, seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the operation. They claim that the BLM is violating the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which requires the agency to protect and manage the animals in a humane and ecological manner.


Judge to Hear Arguments from Both Sides

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, Aug. 9, to get details from both sides as he considers the request for a temporary restraining order. The hearing comes after the BLM reported that 31 horses have died during the roundup, mostly from dehydration, exhaustion, and injuries.

The horse advocates, represented by the non-profit Wild Horse Education, have submitted photos and videos of injured mustangs trying to flee the helicopters and wranglers. One horse with a broken leg was chased for 35 minutes before it was euthanized. Another horse was shot after it broke through a fence and ran onto a highway.

The BLM, represented by the Justice Department, has argued that the deaths are tragic but expected, and within the average mortality rate of 1% to 1.2% for wild horse gathers conducted from 2010 to 2019. The agency says that the horses face greater harm from starvation and thirst if they are not removed from the overgrazed land.

Horse Advocates Say Mustangs Are Scapegoats

The horse advocates say that the mustangs are being made scapegoats for the damage caused by taxpayer-subsidized cattle grazing on the same public land. They say that the BLM is catering to the interests of ranchers and mining companies, who want to exploit the land for profit.

They also say that the roundup is based on an outdated environmental review that fails to reflect current conditions on the range. They say that the BLM has not conducted a comprehensive census of the horse population, nor considered alternatives to removal, such as fertility control or relocation.

They argue that the roundup violates the spirit and intent of the law that protects wild horses as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” They say that the horses have a right to live freely on their native land, and that they are part of the natural ecosystem and cultural heritage of Nevada.

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