Thursday, May 10, 2012

Judge Says “Neigh” To BLM’s Refusal to Consider Expert Declarations about Wild Horse Gelding

A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) should have considered the declarations of four leading wild horse scientists who criticized the agency’s new radical approach to wild horse management, which involves castrating male horses and returning them to the range with unknown, and likely severe, impacts to individual horses, their herds, and the public’s ability to view these horses in their natural “wild” state.  In making its novel decision to castrate hundreds of male horses at the Pancake Complex in Nevada, BLM studiously avoided considering these declarations, despite the fact that they had been submitted to the agency in a prior challenge to the same “pilot” program by conservation organizations in a case that the BLM mooted out by withdrawing the gelding proposal.  The court has now ordered the parties to re-commence summary judgment briefing on whether the use of gelding required an Environmental Impact Statement and was consistent with the mandates of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and whether the agency complied with its legal duties by proposing to permanently remove thousands of horses from the public lands on the grounds that the horses were damaging the range, while leaving tens of thousands of cattle to graze the same lands.  The decision can be found here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Court Finds Plaintiffs Have Standing To Challenge ESA Violations At Sharp Park Golf Course

Last week the federal district court in San Francisco rejected the City of San Francisco’s arguments that plaintiffs lack Article III standing to challenge the City’s unlawful “take” of the imperiled California red-legged frog (CRLF) and San Francisco garter snake (SFGS) at Sharp Park golf course, a city-owned course that provides vital habitat for these ESA listed species.  The City had argued that there were so many CRLF at Sharp Park that plaintiffs interests in the species are not harmed when the City’s massive water pumping operations kill CRLF egg masses, and that there are so few SFGS that plaintiffs’ interests in that species are also not injured by activities, such as mowing operations, that risk killing SFGS. 

Finding that plaintiffs meet all the elements of Article III standing, the court explained that plaintiffs would have standing to challenge the take of CRLF irrespective of the species’ population, but that in addition “new evidence” suggests that the species may be declining at the golf course.  As regards the SFGS, the Court concluded that it “would be incongruous with the purposes of the ESA” to conclude that a plaintiff lacks standing where the species “is difficult to see, or worse, that because there are so few of the animals left, a person cannot be harmed by continued take.”

Because the City is seeking a Biological Opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its golf course operations, the court temporarily stayed proceedings in the suit.  The parties must update the court on the progress of that process over the next several months, after which the court will determine how to proceed.

A copy of the court’s ruling is here.