U.S. judge may suspend controversial mustang roundup in Nevada

A livestock helicopter pilot rounds up wild horses
A livestock helicopter pilot rounds up wild horses from the Fox & Lake Herd Management Area in Washoe County, Nev., in 2008.
(Brad Horn / Associated Press)

A federal judge is considering temporarily suspending the capture of wild horses in Nevada, where their advocates say the federal government is “needlessly and recklessly” killing free-roaming mustangs in violation of U.S. laws.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du says she expects to rule by Monday, maybe sooner, on the advocates’ request for an emergency order pending another hearing next week to learn more about the potential danger of a roundup scheduled near the Utah state line.

The Bureau of Land Management insists it must gather the mustangs before the end of February — one of several scheduled on an expedited basis across the West due to severe drought.


“If the court grants the temporary restraining order and sets a hearing next week ... halts the gather for a few days through next week, what’s the harm?” Du asked lawyers representing the agency Wednesday during a hastily called hearing in Reno.

Maggie Smith, a Justice Department lawyer, said a delay of even two or three days would prevent the agency from completing the removals before the end of the year.

The bureau is prohibited from using helicopters to drive the herds into temporary corrals from March 1 to June 1, when mares typically are pregnant and give birth. After that, the summer heat adds stress on the animals, and in the fall, contractor availability becomes a problem, Smith said.

The horse advocates say the agency is squeezing the roundup of 2,030 horses in Nevada into one month under an illegal environmental assessment of a series of roundups over 10 years. Of the 1,048 horses collected as of Wednesday, the bureau says 11 have died.

The horse groups says the low-flying helicopters combined with “unsafe muddy conditions on the ground in mid-January create a purely artificial hazard that is deadly to these wild horses, a congressionally protected, public natural resource.”

“This particular herd is foaling now and pregnant now,” Jessica Blome, their lawyer, told Du on Wednesday. “If [the government] had followed the proper process and monitored the herd, they would know that.”