Monday, May 24, 2010 | 4:53 p.m.
A federal judge Monday officially dismissed a lawsuit brought by animal rights activists over a big wild horse roundup in northern Nevada, saying the case was moot and plaintiffs lacked standing.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman in Washington, D.C., who in December denied an injunction to prevent the roundup, said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has already gathered 1,922 horses from the Calico Mountains Complex north of Reno, therefore challenging the use of helicopters was moot.
The group In Defense of Animals, wildlife ecologist Craig Downer and children's author Terri Farley also claimed in their suit that shipping horses removed from the range to long-term holding corrals in the Midwest is not permitted under the Wild Horse and Burro Act.
But Friedman said the plaintiffs failed to show how sending the horses to other facilities would cause harm to themselves.
"The closest the plaintiffs come to such an explanation is their assertion that transfer to the long-term holding facilities in the Midwest would permanently remove the gathered Calico wild horses from their home on the range," the judge wrote.
He said their lawyer, William Spriggs, conceded during earlier oral arguments that horses once deemed to be "excess" cannot be returned to open range.
Friedman also said that if prevented from placing horses in long-term facilities, there's no reason to believe the BLM would have canceled the roundup.
"It might ... place excess horses into areas of public lands that are not currently overpopulated by wild horse," he said. "Or it might, as Congress has directed it to do, decide to euthanize healthy, unadoptable horses, assuming that it could secure funding to do so."
Spriggs, who represented the horse advocates for free, said the case was dismissed on a technicality and would be pursued.
"The BLM's practice of removing horses from the Western range and warehousing them in Midwestern holding facilities is flat out illegal," he said.
The government estimates about 33,700 horses and 4,700 burros roam BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states. It estimates the terrain can support 26,600. As of May 1, about 10,700 animals were in short-term corrals awaiting adoption and 24,400 were at long-term pastures.