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Wyoming sues the US Department of Interior, claiming failure to reduce wild horse numbers

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Wyoming filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking to force the federal government to reduce the number of wild horses that roam the state.

Wyoming claims claiming the U.S. Department of Interior has failed to follow federal law in controlling wild horse populations.

Gov. Matt Mead said too many wild horses can harm habitat used by other wildlife species, including sage grouse, deer and elk. He says overgrazing by horses can even threaten the horses themselves.

"It is my belief, and the belief of other western governors, that the BLM does not have the resources to manage wild horses effectively," Mead said. "By filing suit, it sends a message that wild horse management is a priority and the BLM must be provided the funding necessary to manage them."

The Western Governors' Association passed a resolution last weekend at its meeting in Las Vegas stating that federal agencies' inability to rein in rising wild horse and burro populations is an urgent concern.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management earlier this year estimated there were 3,771 wild horses in Wyoming. In its lawsuit, Wyoming claims the horse population exceeds appropriate levels in seven herd management areas by about 475 total horses while populations are constantly increasing.

An attempt to reach a BLM spokeswoman for comment on the state's lawsuit wasn't immediately successful Monday afternoon.

While Wyoming is complaining that the federal government isn't doing enough to reduce wild horse populations, the federal agency is also under fire from wild horse advocates who claim it's doing too much.

Horse advocate groups sued the BLM this year in an unsuccessful effort to stop the agency from rounding up wild horses from herd management areas around Rock Springs. The agency announced in October that it had rounded up 1,263 wild horses in the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek herd management areas.

Although the BLM makes wild horses available for adoption, the supply greatly exceeds the demand and thousands of horses are kept in federal holding facilities.

The Friends of Animals group held protests at the BLM's Rock Springs office this fall to protest the roundups. The group is petitioning the U.S. Department of Interior to grant wild horses and burros federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. It's also pressing a federal lawsuit charging that the BLM failed to follow environmental laws in approving this fall's roundups.

Although Wyoming is suing the Department of Interior in this newest lawsuit seeking to reduce the wild horse population, the state has entered the lawsuit filed by Friends of Animals to argue with the federal government that the roundups conducted this fall were proper.

Edita Birnkrant, spokeswoman for Friends of Animals, said Monday she was shocked by Wyoming's lawsuit seeking to remove more wild horses from the state.

"It's just mind-boggling, after the egregious roundup that just happened a few months ago, the idea that Wyoming thinks that they're not doing enough to roundup wild horses, is just nothing short of insanity," Birnkrant said.

"They're so out of touch with the residents of Wyoming, and of states all across the country that treasure and want protection for wild horses," Birnkrant said. "And here we have these out-of-control states with the mentality that says wild horses should be wiped out. There's no other way to read what's going on here."

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