Judge tells Beaver County to hold its horses with mismanagement claims

Judge tells Beaver County to hold its horses with mismanagement claims

(Kristin Murphy, KSL, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Beaver County officials may be aggravated, frustrated and downright angry over the proliferation of wild horses in their area, but that's not sufficient to bring a case against the federal government on assertions of mismanagement.

That ruling, from U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, tossed a lawsuit brought by Beaver County against the U.S. Department of the Interior and set a Nov. 10 deadline for the county to file a new complaint that proves it has a legal claim worth consideration.

In his Friday decision, Waddoups said Beaver County failed on three fronts to stake a claim for relief and action on the wild horse issue.

The county first argued it had an interest in the health of the animals; then the excess population was causing harm to the rangeland and posing risk to public safety; and lastly, the economic interests of the county suffered because of the animals.

Court documents don't dispute the numbers at the center of the county's complaint over wild horses.

The Sulphur Herd Management Area, covering western portions of Beaver, Iron and Millard counties, has an appropriate management level set by the Bureau of Land Management of up to 250 wild horses. Federal court documents indicate those numbers are at 1,150 horses, according to a count in March.

Wild horses roam in the Cedar Mountain range on Thursday, July 18, 2013. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, KSL)
Wild horses roam in the Cedar Mountain range on Thursday, July 18, 2013. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, KSL)


"Despite finding that there is an overpopulation of wild horses and that excess wild horses need to be removed from the Sulphur (Herd Management Area), the BLM authorized a gather plan that does not immediately and permanently remove all excess wild horses in violation of the (federal law)," Waddoups stated in his ruling.

The BLM instead chose a multiphased plan to gather wild horses over a six- to 10-year period that did not guarantee it would be enough to reach the targeted population level.

In its argument the case should be dismissed, the federal government said the county failed to prove a distinct injury.

Waddoups agreed: "Given the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction over management and protection of wild, free-roaming horses and burros, the county's alleged concern for the horses' 'starvation, dehydration, disease, injury and ultimately horrific deaths,' is misplaced because it has no cognizable interest in managing or protecting wild, free-roaming wild horses and/or burros."


In addition, the judge wrote that the county could not bring a third-party claim of relief based on farmers or ranchers worried about the condition of rangeland or public safety risks on a state highway.

Waddoups also rejected the assertion the county's agricultural base was suffering harm, noting that Beaver County relied on a 20-year-old statistical analysis showing impacts from animals in a different state.

"Again, these figures are 'conjectural' and 'hypothetical.' Ultimately, the county has failed to meet its burden showing injury in fact," he wrote.

Waddoups said Beaver County will be allowed to amend its complaint because it's possible the county may be able to show a direct link to tax revenues and wild horse impacts. Such a link, he noted, would allow the case to move forward.


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Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team at the Deseret News with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues.


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