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News Release

Environmental Advocacy Clinic Secures Legal Victory for Wild Horses

Thursday, July 27, 2023


Settlement stops Bureau of Land Management’s unlawful roundup of Pokegama herd in southern Oregon

Earlier this month, Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic settled its federal lawsuit on behalf of Wild Horse Fire Brigade (WHFB), achieving an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that will halt the agency’s unlawful roundup of wild horses from private lands in and around the Pokegama Wild Horse Management Area.

Filed last October, the lawsuit called for an immediate halt to the roundup of wild horses from private property within and adjacent to the Pokegama Herd Management Area in southern Oregon along the California border. The Environmental Advocacy Clinic represented the WHFB in the suit, which sought immediate injunctive relief and challenged BLM’s failure to conduct adequate studies and comply with the law and its own guidance before initiating the roundup.

“The Environmental Advocacy Clinic was excited to partner with WHFB to protect the Pokegama wild horses. More importantly, we were able to put a stop to the illegal removal of horses by BLM, an agency that has persistently shown it has no interest in carrying out its legal mandate to protect these amazing creatures on public lands owned by all of us,” said Michael Harris, former director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic.

The settlement agreement filed with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on July 19, 2023, ensures that BLM will not move forward with any wild horse roundup in the area without first complying with the full set of applicable laws and guidance, including the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

WHFB Vice President Kelsey Stangebye said, “I want to underscore how important this settlement is for the Pokegama Herd and the future of wild horses living wild and free on the range. There is no doubt in my mind that if the Wild Horse Fire Brigade did not file suit against the BLM based on the illegal roundup, then this herd would have been decimated and removed from the public range with no public attention nor knowledge. This settlement is a victory for the Pokegama Herd to continue to live wild in this herd management area.”

Wild horses are a vital component of managing grassland and forest ecosystems in the area. Their grazing helps reduce and maintain grass and shrubs, effectively mitigating major wildfire hazards. The herd of wild horses even played a crucial role in aiding CALFIRE during the 2018 Klamathon Fire by creating and maintaining firebreaks and safe zones for firefighters.

The Pokegama Herd Management Area, sprawling across 80,885 acres near the California-Oregon border, is home to approximately 230 wild horses. The BLM's own guidelines recommend maintaining a population of 150-200 animals in a herd to ensure healthy genetic diversity. However, BLM’s unlawful roundup relied on conflicting information suggesting an “appropriate population” of just 30-50 horses, which would have posed serious threats to the herd’s survival given potential inbreeding and genetic erosion. Under this month’s settlement, any future roundup would require adherence to BLM’s guidelines and further analysis under applicable law.

Environmental Advocacy Clinic student attorneys Anokhi Dhamsania, Sarah Finley and Alexius Paul assisted with the litigation.


About Vermont Law and Graduate School: Vermont Law and Graduate School, a private, independent institution, is home to a Law School that offers ABA-accredited residential and online hybrid JD programs and a Graduate School that offers master’s degrees and certificates in multiple disciplines, including programs offered by the Maverick Lloyd School for the Environment, the Center for Justice Reform and other graduate-level programs emphasizing the intersection of environmental justice, social justice and public policy. Both the Law and Graduate Schools strongly feature experiential clinical and field work learning. For more information, visit vermontlaw.eduFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

About Wild Horse Fire Brigade: Wild Horse Fire Brigade (WHFB) is a California-based 501-c-3 all-volunteer nonprofit public benefit corporation. WHFB is working to save native species American wild horses by rewilding them away from Bureau of Land Management holding facilities as well as relocating wild horses away from areas where they are deemed to be in conflict, and humanely reestablishing these American icons into ecologically and economically appropriate wilderness areas as keystone herbivores where they will reduce the frequency, size and intensity of catastrophic wildfire by reducing grass and brush wildfire fuels.
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