- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A judge mostly upheld a U.S. Bureau of Land Management roundup of hundreds of wild horses in western Wyoming that horse advocates had claimed violated several laws.

The roundup was proper under a federal wild horse law and 34-year-old federal court order in which ranchers voluntarily agreed to allow wild horses to roam the area where the roundup occurred, U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled Tuesday.

“None of the arguments advanced by petitioners and nothing about BLM’s horse management program inspire this court to change the approach sanctioned by the court in 1981,” Freudenthal wrote.

She ordered the Bureau of Land Management to go back and correct procedural deficiencies in planning the roundup, however.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and others tried but failed to persuade judges to block the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from gathering 1,263 horses east and south of Rock Springs in September and October. The horse advocates pressed on with their lawsuit after the roundup, and oral arguments in the case occurred Monday.

The federal agency improperly planned the roundup under a legal exemption to an otherwise required environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, Freudenthal ruled.

Freudenthal otherwise upheld the roundup under laws including the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. The act requires the government to maintain wild horses on public land and to round them up from private land when asked to do so by the landowner.

The roundup occurred in an area known as the Checkerboard because of its square-mile squares of private land interspersed with same-sized squares of public land. Few fences separate the public and private holdings, and wild horses roam both.

In her ruling, Freudenthal noted that a federal judge in 1981 upheld the roundups of wild horses in the Checkerboard under the requirement to round up horses from private land at the landowner’s request. At the time, the Rock Springs Grazing Association agreed to allow 500 wild horses to roam the Checkerboard, including the association’s Checkerboard holdings.

Proliferation of wild horses on the Checkerboard far beyond that number prompted the association in 2011 to sue and declare it no longer agreed to any wild horses on the Checkerboard. The association lawsuit ultimately led to the roundup to clear the Checkerboard of wild horses.

Association President John Hay said he’s pleased with the ruling. He declined to speculate what might result from the Bureau of Land Management’s required environmental review. “It’s probably premature to say how that might take place,” Hay said Wednesday.

The association and state of Wyoming intervened in the case on the federal government’s side. An attorney for the federal government did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

An attorney for the horse advocates, William Eubanks, said in a statement the plaintiffs were disappointed Freudenthal upheld the roundups under the wild horse act, but they were pleased she agreed with their concerns about no environmental review.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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