Wild Mustang Center appeals planned BLM horse roundup

Citing a concern that the action would “place the herd at genetic risk,” the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center last week exercised the right to submit an appeal and a petition for a stay to the Interior Board of Land Appeals in regard to the recent decision by the Bureau of Land Management to remove 17 horses from the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

According to Nancy Cerroni, president of the Mustang Center board of directors, the board met last Thursday to review the recent decision on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Bait and Water Trapping Gather and Fertility Control environmental assessment, then made the final decision to file an appeal.

The appeal was submitted to the IBLA by mail on Saturday, Cerroni said, well before the Sept. 4 deadline.

Cerroni and the Wild Mustang Center said in a series of prepared talking points issued this week that the Center has been working with the BLM and commenting throughout the
decision-making process on the gather, starting with a scoping notice issued by the BLM in September of 2017.

“The Mustang Center provided comment on this,” the Center paper read.

A pair of Pryor Mountain mustangs enjoy a sunny day in late May in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. The Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center has filed an appeal of the BLM decision to begin a removal of 17 horses in September.
David Peck photo

The Center again provided comments when the preliminary EA for the proposed action was issued in January during a 30-day comment period that began Jan. 16.

After nearly six months passed, the BLM issued its decision on the 17-horse removal and fertility control plan on August 3, which started the clock ticking for a 30-day period during which an appeal could be filed.

The decision calls for the removal of 17 horses this year and more over a three-year period, or in just one to two years if the horse range doesn’t show improvement, Cerroni said.

The basis of the decision is an effort to bring the horse population to the calculated Appropriate Management Level of 120, the Center information states, adding that the current herd population is 154.

“The BLM contends that achieving the AML would stabilize range conditions and that it must be reached as soon as possible,” the Center/Cerroni wrote, adding that the decision also modifies the fertility control plan as follows: Mares would be treated at ages 2 and 3, then would not be treated until they have successfully foaled twice.

Center reaction

The Mustang Center board does not believe that the decision is consistent with the 2009 herd area management plan for the Pryor Mountain Horse Range, stating, “As a primary concern, the Mustang Center does not believe that the decision adequately addresses the objective to prevent the loss of bloodlines in the herd.”

The Center and Cerroni pointed out that the organization maintains a database used to track bloodlines, and concerns about certain bloodlines were provided to the BLM during the recent comment periods.

Cerroni said the Center has worked closely with the BLM in past years to provide the valuable herd information to the agency. In fact, the BLM stated in the EA for the 2015 gather that “the organization with the kinship expertise and information is the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center, which provided much advice on lineage.”

The Mustang Center is also concerned about the effect the gather would have on herd demographics, noting that it would cause the future core breeding age (5 to 10 years old) cohort to be minimally represented in conflict with the 2009 HMAP.

As for range conditions, the Center questions the decision’s assumed, immediate benefits to range conditions based on the monitoring date used to support it, Cerroni said, namely the “consistency and frequency of gathering the data.”

The Mustang Center does support the changes to the fertility control plan and encourages the BLM to implement the plan, along with small gathers, to incrementally reach the AML, noting that the recommendations are consistent with those in the BLM’s 2018 Report to Congress.

“Overall, based on a carefully constructed, objective analysis of the decision, the Mustang Center believes that the action would place the herd at genetic risk,” the Center paper reads. “Properly protecting these descendants of the Colonial Spanish horse, a genetically unique treasure, requires that today’s decisions do not affect tomorrow’s herd.”

In an earlier story members of the board of directors expressed concern about the plan to allow a mare to have only two offspring, noting that if one is removed and something happens to the second offspring, that occurrence could be damaging to genetic diversity.

“We’re looking to leave a second offspring on the range,” Cerroni said in that Aug. 9 story following the Aug. 3 BLM decision. “One offspring is a fragile buffer zone for diversity, especially when bloodlines are a little on the slim side. That’s why our numbers (for removal) are lower.”

Cerroni said Tuesday that the Center’s board of directors elected to appeal the decision “based on the decision’s overall deficiencies” and added that this is the first time the Mustang Center has appealed a BLM decision.

“This decision was not taken lightly as the Mustang Center has previously had a cooperative relationship with the BLM,” the Center wrote. “However, the appeal had to occur in order for the Mustang Center to achieve its mission to help protect the herd, which is treasured by locals as well as the thousands of visitors who come to the Lovell area each year.”

Cerroni said a petition for a stay can accompany an appeal, and this petition is a request to suspend the decision. If a petition is filed, she said, a 45-day period starts after the end of the appeal window. During this period the decision cannot take effect unless the IBLA rules in the BLM’s favor.

A petition for a stay places the burden of proof on the appellant to provide four justifications as to why the decision should not take effect, Cerroni said: 1) The relative harm to the parties if the stay is granted or denied. 2) The likelihood of the appellant’s success on the merits. 3) The likelihood of immediate and irreparable harm if the stay is not granted. 4) Whether the public interest favors granting the stay.

“The Mustang Center carefully developed and submitted an appeal and petition for stay demonstrating that the decision was made in error and that it would likely negatively impact the herd and the Mustang Center,” the talking points paper said.

By David Peck

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