By Scott Sonner
RENO — Wild horse advocates in Nevada scored a victory Monday in an ongoing legal battle with rural interests they say want to round up federally protected mustangs across the West and sell them for slaughter.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied an appeal by the Nevada Association of Counties and Nevada Farm Bureau Federation representing ranchers and others who argue overpopulated herds are damaging the range and robbing livestock of forage.
The decision upholds an earlier ruling by a federal judge in Reno who dismissed their lawsuit in 2015 seeking to force the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to expedite widespread roundups across Nevada.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a similar decision in Wyoming in October.
In both cases, the American Wild Horse Campaign and others argued the courts have no authority to order the agency to gather horses in violation of the U.S. Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
“We’re pleased that the courts continue to dismiss attempts by these grazing interests to use the judicial system to rewrite federal law that Congress designed to protect wild horses from capture, not to favor the livestock industry,” said Nick Lawton, a lawyer for the campaign that formerly went by the name American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.
The Nevada suit filed in 2014 demanded BLM sell older horses deemed unadoptable without the usual prohibition on resale for slaughter. The Farm Bureau argued the overpopulation “has severe impacts on the health of the horses as well as the ecological health and sustainability of Nevada’s rangelands.”
A three-judge panel of the U.S. appellate court agreed with Judge Miranda Du of Reno, repeating her conclusion the plaintiffs had failed to identify any specific final agency actions that could be challenged.
“Instead, NACO seeks judicial oversight and direction of virtually the entire federal wild horse and burro management program in Nevada,” the three-page ruling issued Monday said.