By Thomas Mitchell

It just doesn’t get any more blatant than this.

While miners, ranchers and county commissioners all across rural Nevada can attest to the Bureau of Land Management’s arrogance and indolence, it takes a special level of hubris to openly and wantonly defy Congress and the law of the land.

Yet, when it comes to carrying out the instructions from Congress on the management of wild horses and burros under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the BLM is so bold and so brazen as to write on its own website that it doesn’t care one whit what the law says.

Under a section of its website labeled Myths and Facts the BLM denies that it is selling or sending wild horses to slaughter:

“Fact:  This charge is absolutely false. The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management care deeply about the well-being of wild horses, both on and off the range, and it has been and remains the policy of the BLM not to sell or send wild horses or burros to slaughter. Consequently, as the Government Accountability Office noted in a report issued in October 2008, the BLM is not in compliance with a December 2004 amendment (the so-called Burns Amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act) that directs the Bureau to sell excess horses or burros ‘without limitation’ to any willing buyer.”

In another “Fact” the agency admits there are 14,000 too many horses currently roaming the West.

These are just two of the myriad misdeeds by the federal land management agency revealed in a recent federal lawsuit filed by the Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation against the Department of Interior, the BLM, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and others.

The suit asks the court to issue an injunction or writ requiring federal agencies to follow the wild horse and burro law, because its current failure to do so is starving the very animals the law was intended to protect.

“Free-roaming horse and burro herds in Nevada are frequently observed to be in malnourished condition, with the ribs and skeletal features of individual animals woefully on view and other signs of ill-health readily observable,” the suit says.
Additionally, the suit says the excess horse and burro population is damaging public and private property and water rights and other endangered or threatened species, as well as having an adverse impact on counties’ tax bases and economies.
Roughly half of all wild horses and burros are in Nevada. The suit also points out that technically the horses and burros are not wild, but are feral animals.

“Given the propensity of such horses and burros to breed in an uncontrollable fashion as they have virtually no natural predators (such animals can easily double in population every four years) Congress imposed a number of mandatory duties on the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior,” the suit explains, which is why the law mandates those agencies to monitor the population and remove “excess animals” to protect the range from deterioration.
The plaintiff county and farm organizations say in the suit that they tried to correspond with the federal agencies and obtain relief, but they were largely ignored. They quote a letter from one BLM official saying that “nearly 50,000 unadopted animals are currently housed in long-term holding facilities,” though the law clearly states that, if an animal cannot be sold or adopted, it must be destroyed.

The federal agencies often claim that their ability to properly maintain the population of wild horses and burros is hampered by a lack of funds. The suit calls this a “self-inflicted handicap,” because half of the BLM’s horse and burro budget is going to warehousing those 50,000 animals, which can live for 25 to 30 years.

Anne Novak, executive director of Protect Mustangs, told The Associated Press, “The plaintiffs have an arrogant sense of entitlement. I’m grateful the American public will see how the plaintiffs allegedly intend on denying native wild horses the right to water and are requesting BLM destroy the majority of the roundup survivors. Their lawsuit will rally more voters to fight for wild horses to remain wild and free for future generations.”If that is the case, perhaps the law should be amended rather than ignored by those paid to enforce the law.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at Read additional musings on his blog at