A federal judge on Wednesday denied wild horse advocates' request for a temporary restraining order to halt the roundup of the Pryor Mountain's wild mustang herd.
The Bureau of Land Management roundup, which was scheduled to begin Monday about 70 miles south of Billings, will now begin Thursday.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmett G. Sullivan made the oral ruling from his Washington, D.C., bench.
"We argued for close to three hours, so obviously he had some questions about BLM's allegations and everything," said Valerie Stanley, the attorney who argued the case for complainants The Cloud Foundation and Front Range Equine Rescue. "He said a temporary restraining order is an extraordinary remedy and that BLM's determinations were entitled to some deference.
"He did feel we had shown irreparable harm by removal of the horses," she added.
The lawsuit will continue, although no date has been scheduled. Stanley said the suit will allow more time for her clients' arguments to be considered and BLM's actions to be scrutinized.
"He could still set aside BLM's ruling, just not today," Stanley said. "What it will do is analyze the legal issues, whether BLM's decisions have a solid basis or not."
Stanley also said that a ruling against BLM could mean the agency would have to return any horses that are removed from the 38,000-acre Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.
70 to be removed
The Bureau of Land Management plans to round up the entire herd of about 190 animals and remove 70 to reduce the size of the herd. The culled animals would be put up for adoption beginning Sept. 26. Those not adopted would be put in a Nebraska holding facility.
Currently, there are 22,100 wild horses being held in long-term facilities for the BLM. Another 9,000 are being held in short-term facilities where their chances of adoption are greater. There are an estimated 33,000 wild horses roaming federal lands in the United States.
After the Pryor herd is rounded up, mares receive a contraceptive injection, and the animals that were not going to be removed would be released back to the range.
The roundup is being done by Cattoor Livestock Roundup, a Utah-based firm that specializes in helicopter gathers of wild horses, one of only two in the nation. BLM staffers will assist. The horse range is closed to the public during the roundup, although a public viewing area will be set up near the agency's Britton Springs, Wyo., facilities where the corrals are located.
Ginger Kathrens, a documentary filmmaker who has given the Pryor Mountain herd worldwide fame with her two documentaries and books, will be filming the roundup. Kathrens also heads The Cloud Foundation, named after one of the Pryor's wild mustangs.
"I pray that nothing happens to Cloud and his family," Kathrens said. "I pray that nothing happens to any of them."
She said that despite the failure of the groups to halt the roundup, they did manage to emphasize the commitment of many people to protecting the herd.
"Obviously we're disappointed, but we move forward," she said.
Her next quest is to discourage the BLM from removing older horses from the range, which could include Cloud's mother. Under the BLM's plan, 17 horses over the age of 10 would be culled from the herd.
"We'll work very hard to see that they do not adopt out those older animals," Kathrens said. "Their lives in captivity would be very sad."
Kathrens said older horses that have spent their entire lives in freedom are not good candidates for adoption any-way.
"I would hope they would show some kindness toward those animals," she said.
Contact Brett French at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 657-1387.