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Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition, Inc. v. Salazar
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
639 F. Supp. 2d 87 (2009)
In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (free-roaming act) to protect wild horses from capture. The free-roaming act prohibited removing wild horses from their natural habitats unless the habitat was overpopulated with an excess of horses. Congress tasked the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with determining whether an area had excess horses, defined as animals needing to be removed to preserve the natural ecological balance. In 1980, BLM recommended the removal of wild horses in the West Douglas Herd Area within northwestern Colorado. BLM’s rationale was that the horses were roaming into areas they had not previously inhabited because of energy exploration on the land. BLM later reassessed its recommendation and considered other alternatives. In 2008, BLM concluded that the wild horses were to be removed from the West Douglas Herd Area and published an action plan. The Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition, Inc., and other organizations and individuals concerned with equine rights (the equine-rights entities) (plaintiffs) sued Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (defendant) on the ground that BLM’s removal of wild horses was ultra vires because it violated the free-roaming act by removing horses that had not been determined to be excess animals. Salazar argued that BLM had not acted ultra vires because the plan was not intended to eliminate the horses but to secure private adoption, the free-roaming act did not expressly prohibit the removal of non-excess animals, and wild horses had not inhabited the West Douglas Herd Area when the free-roaming act was passed. The equine-rights entities and Salazar both motioned for summary judgment.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Collyer, J.)
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