Advocates of the wild horses, who have intervened in the case, argue that the ranchers have no such legal right to push the BLM into removing more wild horses than they already have from Wyoming's public and private lands. These tribunes say that federal officials-- led by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar himself, a longtime Colorado rancher-- have aggressively reduced Wyoming's herds, often at great peril to the horses and always at significant expense to taxpayers, who pay for both the roundups and the massive holding facilities where tens of thousands of wild horses now are corralled.
And the feds? As usual, the government is caught betwixt and between. The BLM evidently cannot remove Wyoming's wild horses fast enough to satisfy the ranchers. And it clearly cannot keep enough of the herds near Sweetwater County to satisfy the horse advocates. Indeed, one of the most disappointing aspects of the flurry of briefs that have been filed in Rock Springs Grazing Association v. Salazar is the faux indignation offered by federal officials in defense of their herd management policies -- as if they didn't know why this lawsuit came about the way it did.
Even the lead-up to the litigation has dark meaning here. The lawsuit seems to have been driven from within. In early 2010, Interior Department Assistant Secretary Sylvia Baca, the former oil company executive, candidly told the ranchers that they would have to sue her own agency to vindicate their claimed right to get rid of the horses. This is the same Sylvia Baca, a BP veteran, whose subsequent work for the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service has worried environmentalists and others concerned about the oil and gas industry's influence on the agency required by law to oversee it.
The parties appear to disagree on precisely what Baca said, however, and there even is some room between versions offered by the ranchers. Last year, when the lawsuit first was filed, the Grazing Association wrote in its complaint that Baca, then working for Interior on wild horse issues, "attributed the [BLM's] failure to comply [with horse removal requirements] with external influences on the Department and Congress, and the lack of funding due to the need to contract for sanctuaries. The Assistant Secretary stated that litigation would be necessary to secure additional funding for wild horse gathers."
In their opening brief, however, the ranchers have toned it down a bit. They write: "The Deputy Assistant Secretary advised RSGA that DOI policies and priorities made it difficult to offer a solution short of litigation." Whatever the exact words, Baca's advice to the ranchers represented an appalling lack of neutrality about the Interior Department's political and legal mission (which is, in part, to avoid encouraging private parties to sue). More than that, it represented an overt act of hostility toward the federal government Baca still serves. Neither the feds nor the horse advocates mentioned it in their briefs.