RENO (AP) — A federal judge in Nevada who handed horse protection advocates a rare victory last fall has rejected their latest request to block government roundups of free-roaming mustangs in the West, saying they’ll have to go to Congress if they think the animals are being treated inhumanely and need more protection.
U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben granted a temporary restraining order on Aug. 30 that cut short by a day a roundup near the Nevada-Utah line after he determined a helicopter flew too close to a horse in violation of the law.
But he said during a hearing in Reno Thursday that he was denying a new injunction request from the Texas-based Wild Horse Freedom Federation partly because the Bureau of Land Management has made some positive changes since then. He also said he can’t issue injunctions based on speculation about future abuses.
“This court is really not in a position to be the overseer of the BLM,” McKibben said. “This court is not going to police all gathers in the U.S. or even all gathers in the district of northern Nevada.”
“This Court is not Congress, not an administrative agency. We are not the first branch of government. We are not the second branch. We’re here to consider grievances,” he said.
His ruling was a disappointment to horse protection advocates who were buoyed by his court order last fall when he took the BLM to task for its actions at the Triple B complex roundup near the Nevada-Utah line northwest of Ely, Nev.
“Your honor, you are the last vestige of hope here,” said Gordon Cowan, a lawyer for the group. “Basically, there is no other accountability.”
Erik Petersen, a Justice Department lawyer representing BLM, said the agency took McKibben’s earlier order seriously and responded with its own internal review of the Triple B roundup “in great part in response to this court’s ruling on the temporary restraining order.”
The law already dictates the horses be treated humanely but the agency now has “a half dozen specific instructions” or guidelines for roundup contractors to follow, including prohibiting helicopters from flying too close to animals, Petersen said.
The BLM said in a formal review made public in December that some mustangs in the Triple B complex were whipped in the face, kicked in the head, dragged by a rope around the neck, and repeatedly shocked with electrical prods, but the agency concluded none of the mistreatment rose to the level of being inhumane. BLM Director Bob Abbey did, however, determine additional training is needed for the workers and contractors involved.