The U.S. Bureau of Land Management can no longer "remain studiously ignorant of material scientific evidence" indicating that castrating wild stallions is a problematic and possibly illegal way of managing the herds, a federal judge has ruled in the long-running battle over the fate of America's wild horses.
The ruling by Judge Beryl Howell, who sits on the federal bench in the District of Columbia, comes as opponents of the BLM's controversial roundups of wild horses on public lands are seeking to stop a plan to castrate hundreds of wild stallions in eastern Nevada -- and then return them to the range. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including the Colorado Springs-based Cloud Foundation, had sought to introduce declarations from equine experts explaining why the mass gelding is a stunningly bad idea.
One of the disputed documents -- by Jay Kirkpartrick, a director of conservation biology at Zoo Montana and authority on wildlife reproductive biology -- warns that geldings would not be able to keep their bands together, "which is an integral part of a viable herd.... Castrating horses will effectively remove the biological and physiological controls that prompt these stallions to behave like wild horses. This will negatively impact the place of the horse in the social order and the herd."
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The BLM had argued that the experts' views hadn't been incorporated in a timely fashion into the administrative record of public response to the plan. Judge Howell's decision to allow the material is another setback in the BLM's efforts to remove thousands of horses from the public range and impose strict population controls on the remaining herds. Opponents insist that the roundups, which use helicopters to chase horses -- sometimes to the point of collapse -- are unnecessary and cruel.
"This is yet another example of the agency's epidemic refusal to incorporate science in its management of wild horse and burro herds," Cloud Foundation executive director Ginger Kathrens declared in a public statement heralding the ruling.
Yesterday, as news of the ruling began to make its way through the horse advocacy community, embattled BLM director Bob Abbey -- who's been at the the helm of the agency the past three years and had pledged to find a better approach to the horse management controversies -- announced that he will retire at the end of the month.
More from our News archive: "Wild horse roundups: Judge bans helicopters after pilot buzzes exhausted mustang (VIDEO)."