CLOUD FOUNDATION, INC. et. al., Plaintiff,
KEN SALAZAR, et. al. Defendant.
OPINION & ORDER.
[Resolving Doc. Nos. 72 and 76]
JAMES S. GWIN, District Judge.
In this challenge to federal management of wild horses on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in southern Montana and northern Wyoming, both parties move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and GRANTS Defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment.
A. Factual Background
This action concerns the government's treatment of wild horse populations on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. The range spans 39, 650 acres and is located in Carbona County, Montana, and Big Horn County, Wyoming. The Secretary of the Interior established the range in 1968,  but the range has since been expanded to include lands within the Custer National Forest, administered by the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, and the Bighorn National Recreation Area, administered by the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior.
In 1971, three years after the designation of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act ("Wild Horses Act"). The Wild Horses Act tasked the Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") in the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture to care for and manage wild horses on lands in their respective jurisdictions.
In 1984, the BLM issued a herd management area plan ("HMAP") establishing an appropriate management level ("AML") at 121 wild horses (plus or minus five percent). In 1992, the BLM modified the 1984 HMAP and established an AML of 95 (plus or minus 10 percent) or 85 to 105 wild horses. The 1992 HMAP governed wild horse management until 2009.
In 2008, BLM, with the assistance of the Forest Service and the National Park Service, evaluated the range to determine if management objectives were being met. The evaluation found that, as a result of grazing and drought, certain areas of the range were overused. As a result, the evaluation recommended BLM manage the range for 92 to 117 horses.
Afterwards, BLM, with the assistance of Forest Service and the National Park Service, prepared a draft HMAP and preliminary environmental assessment, which proposed to increase the AML to 90 to 120 horses. BLM afforded the public 30 days to submit comments, relevant information, and recommendations.
After reviewing public comments, the BLM and the Forest Service issued the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Herd Management Area Plan and Environmental Assessment ("2009 HMAP"). Among other things, the 2009 HMAP established an AML of 90-120 horses and provided for the repair, maintenance, and slight extension of the northern boundary fence.
Plaintiffs appealed the BLM's 2009 HMAP decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals ("IBLA") as well as to the United States Forest Service.
B. Procedural Background
On August 28, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief challenging BLM's early September planned gather of wild horses on the range. On August 31, 2009, Plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order to enjoin the gather. On September 2, 2009, the Court denied the motion. On September 8, 2009, the planned gather concluded.
On August 25, 2010, Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint. On October 21, 2010, the government moved for partial judgment on the Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. The government alternatively asked to transfer the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. The Court denied both motions.
On May 27, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. On July 1, 2011, Defendants filed a ...