A U.S. federal court judge has ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated environmental laws in planning to sterilize a herd of wild horses in southwestern Idaho.

In January 2016, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, and Virginia Marie Hudson filed a lawsuit in the Idaho District Court against the BLM, charging that the agency’s plan to permanently sterilize the entire herd of wild horses in the nearly 100,000-acre Saylor Creek Herd Management Area violates the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and the National Environmental Policy Act.

On September 29th, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge noted, in his 44-page ruling, that the BLM failed to analyze the consequences of the action, and ordered the agency to reconsider its decision. “The BLM’s decision in this case is arbitrary and capricious because it did not consider the significant impacts its decision may have on the free-roaming nature of the herd nor explain why its decision is appropriate despite those impacts,” Lodge stated.

Wild horse advocates were handed another legal victory that day when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned a U.S. Forest Service decision to shrink the size of the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory in California by 23,000 acres.

Among the court’s significant findings:

• The BLM has a legal mandate to protect horses’ wild free-roaming behaviors and manage wild horses in self-sustaining herds.

• Sterilizing wild horses impacts the herd’s social structure, the wild horses’ behavior, and the public’s interest in preserving and observing those natural wild horse instincts and behaviors.

• The BLM must consider the behavioral and social impacts of sterilization but failed entirely to do so in its RMP revision process.

• The BLM failed to consider the findings of a 2013 National Academy of Sciences report, “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward.” Among the key findings of that report: BLM management practices are facilitating high population growth rates on the range; the agency’s “Appropriate” Management Levels are not transparent on based on science; fertility control is a viable management tool, and surgical sterilization methods are associated with significant health risks and behavioral impacts.

~ with notes from Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation