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In Defense of Animals v. United States Department of the Interior

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20110
Nos. 12-17804, (9th Cir., 05/12/2014)

The Ninth Circuit held that BLM's roundup or "gather" of approximately 1,639 wild horses and 160 burros from the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area (HMA) on the California-Nevada border complied with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and NEPA. Post-gather, 793 wild horses and 160 burros resided on the HMA. The remaining wild horses were made available for adoption or sale, or placed in long-term holding facilities. Two nonprofit groups dedicated to protecting wild horses and burros filed suit, but none of their arguments were successful. Given the undisputed fact that the wild horse and burro populations greatly exceeded their respective "appropriate management levels" (AMLs) at the time of the gather, and the carefully documented concerns about the deterioration of riparian areas and cultural sites caused by overpopulation, as well as the likelihood of insufficient forage to sustain the growing herd, BLM properly decided action was necessary to restore the AMLs. In addition, BLM’s actions fell within the agency's discretion to remove excess animals from an HMA. And BLM reasonably determined that the most effective way to fulfill its statutory mandate was to attempt temporarily to gather the entire herd before making determinations as to which animals should be euthanized, which animals should be permanently removed via adoption, and which animals should be released back on to the HMA. BLM's actions also complied with NEPA. BLM’s decision not to prepare an EIS was not arbitrary and capricious because BLM provided a convincing statement of reasons why the gather’s environmental effects would not be significant. Nor did BLM act arbitrarily and capriciously under NEPA when it responded to comments highlighting the possibility of scientific dissent regarding the administration of an immunocontraceptive that would reduce their fertility for two years.