In 1979, in one of its first lawsuits, MSLF, on behalf of the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA), sued the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for its refusal to obey the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act by removing wild horses from grazing lands used by RSGA members.
In March 1981, the Wyoming federal district court entered an order requiring the BLM to remove excess wild horses to permit RSGA members to use their lands and engage in livestock grazing. In March 1982, the court issued another order setting new limits for wild horses and ordering that the BLM comply by September 1984. When the BLM failed to comply with the order, MSLF sought a show cause order; the BLM confessed error and then entered into a stipulation agreement: it would remove excess wild horses.
Within a decade, however, the BLM was again out of compliance with federal law, the Wyoming district court’s orders, and the BLM’s stipulation agreement. In 2003, the State of Wyoming sued. The BLM confessed error and entered into a Consent Decree. In time, the BLM’s compliance with the decree suffered from poor management and inaccurate methodologies.
In 2009 and 2010, the BLM removed no wild horses and refused to comply with the court’s orders; rather, the BLM demanded that livestock grazing end. In July of 2011, the RSGA sued for removal of wild horses; in April of 2013, the district court approved a consent decree to that affect.
On August 1, 2014, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) and various wild horse advocates petitioned the district court for review of the BLM’s authorized gather of wild horses on the checkerboard lands of Wyoming. On August 8, 2014, AWHPC moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the proposed gather; however, after expedited briefing, the district court denied AWHPC’s request for a preliminary injunction because AWHPC failed to prove a likelihood of success on the merits.
On August 28, 2014, AWHPC appealed the denial to the Tenth Circuit and filed an emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal with the district court. Shortly thereafter, the district court denied the emergency motion. AWHPC then moved for an injunction pending appeal with the Tenth Circuit. On September 10, 2014, the Tenth Circuit denied the motion for failing to show that the balance of factors weighed in favor of granting such an injunction. In light of this decision, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of AWHPC’s appeal and returned to the district court for a determination of the merits.
On December 19, 2014, AWHPC filed their opening brief arguing that the BLM violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the National Environmental Protection Act in determining to gather the wild horses. On January 20, 2015, the BLM and the RSGA filed answer briefs. On January 27, 2014, MSLF filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and itself in support of the RSGA.
On March 2, 2015, the Wyoming federal district court heard oral arguments regarding the merits. On March 3, 2015, the district court issued an order ruling that the BLM had complied with the WHA and FLPMA, but had violated NEPA. The BLM is now addressing its NEPA violations. On April 6, 2015, AWHPC filed a motion asking the district court to enter final judgment on the WHA and FLPMA claims, so it could immediately appeal those claims to the Tenth Circuit. The BLM and RSGA opposed entry of final judgment on those claims. On May 13, 2015, the district court issued an order granting AWHPC’s motion for entry of final judgment on the WHA and FLPMA claims.
On May 18, 2015, AWHPC filed a notice of appeal. On May 27, 2015, the Tenth Circuit ordered briefing on whether it has appellate jurisdiction. On July 2, 2015, the jurisdictional briefing was referred to the panel of judges to be assigned to consider the appeal on the merits. On July 10, 2015, the BLM filed a notice of appeal, and on July 13, 2015, RSGA filed a notice of appeal. AWHPC moved to consolidate the appeals and stay the briefing schedule. The Tenth Circuit denied the motion to consolidate as unnecessary, but granted the stay and ordered a joint status report to be filed.
On November 20, 2015, AWHPC filed its opening brief on the merits. On November 27, 2015, a group of administrative and natural resource law professors filed an amicus brief in support of AWHPC. On January 22, 2016, the BLM, RSGA, and the State of Wyoming filed their response briefs. On January 29, 2016, MSLF filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and MSLF. On March 1, 2016, AWHPC filed its reply brief. On September 19, 2016, a panel of the Tenth Circuit heard oral arguments.
On October 14, 2016, the Tenth Circuit panel issued an order and judgment, which was unaccompanied by an opinion. In the order, the panel reversed the district court and concluded that the BLM had violated the Wild Horse Act (WHA) and the Federal Land Policy & Management Act (FLPMA) in carrying out the 2014 Checkerboard gather. The panel noted that further explanation would be forthcoming in its opinion.
On October 24, 2016, the panel issued its opinion ruling that the BLM must comply with both Section 3 (removal of wild horses from public lands) and Section 4 (removal of wild horses from private lands) of the WHA before removing wild horses from the Checkerboard. Additionally, the panel ruled that the BLM violated FLPMA because the remaining wild horses on the public lands portions of the Checkerboard, after the 2014 Checkerboard gather, were lower than the number set in the land use plans.