The ranchers, organized as the Western Rangeland Conservation
Association, contend the bureau has violated the 1971 Wild Horses
and Burro Act by failing to keep herd numbers at levels set by the
The herds, which grow by about 20 percent annually, have not been
culled for several years due to budget constraints.
Filed on Wednesday in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court, the
lawsuit says that damage by horses, such as the destruction of
fencing and water resources, is costly and ranchers are powerless to
act because the horses are federally protected.
The Bureau of Land Management's Utah spokeswoman Megan Crandall
declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday, citing the agency's
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the bureau and an order
forcing the agency to round up the horses, which would be then
offered for adoption by the bureau.
On its website, the bureau estimates the population of free-roaming
wild horse and burros across the West at more than 40,600 — nearly
14,000 more than it says should be allowed.
But wild horses numbers in Utah are a matter of dispute.
Bureau data from 2013 estimates between 400 and 500 horses roam the
range in southwestern and central Utah.
Officials in Iron County, about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City,
however, say the number may be closer to 2,000 and last month
launched an independent roundup effort.
[to top of second column]
Wild horse advocates denounced the ranchers' lawsuit as a livestock
industry strategy to deflect attention away from poor range
"This focus on wild horses is a strategy to divert attention away
from the bigger issue of whether our public land can sustain large
scale livestock grazing," said Suzanne Roy of the American Wild
Horse Preservation Campaign, which has intervened in similar
lawsuits in Nevada and Wyoming.
Her group opposes the roundups, instead suggesting horse populations
be managed with birth control, a method recommended in a recent
National Academy of Sciences report.
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Michael Perry)
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