Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
A Placitas group that advocates for the protection and preservation of unclaimed horses roaming their community has launched a new legal battle on behalf of the animals.
The Wild Horse Observers Association is suing the New Mexico Livestock Board, seeking an injunction to prevent the agency from removing the feral horses from Placitas.
The horses – residents estimate there are around 100 wandering in Placitas – have become a divisive issue. Some residents say their presence adds charm to the rural foothills community. Others claim they pose a danger on the roads, damage property and pollute local streams.
In recent months, the Livestock Board has responded to landowners 11 times “resulting in the removal (at least temporarily) of around 57 horses,” agency Executive Director Ray Baca said in an email.
“None of the horses removed by the NMLB from Placitas have ever been intended for sale at any livestock auction facility or to be sold for slaughter,” Baca said, adding that every horse the agency has removed from Placitas has been advertised on its website to determine ownership.
Baca’s email said, to date, all the unclaimed horses the Livestock Board has been involved with in Placitas have been purchased by Placitas Animal Rescue.
Gary Miles, director of Placitas Animal Rescue, confirmed that saying he currently has about 34 horses after finding adoptive homes for about 20 horses, with more adoptions pending.
He said there is no reason for landowners to ask the Livestock Board to remove horses because Placitas Animal Rescue has picked up horses from the roads and other locations where they posed a safety risk and has cared for them. He says people who don’t want horses on their property should fence them out.
WHOA’s lawsuit filed in February in state District Court in Albuquerque asks the court to declare that the Livestock Board is not complying with state law by treating the Placitas horses as “estray” livestock and asks for them to be declared “wild” under state law.
It asks the court to declare that the Livestock Board acted beyond its powers by taking possession of and selling wild horses from public lands. It requests the agency be forbidden from doing so.
Finally, the lawsuit asks that the Livestock Board should not be allowed to prevent the use of birth control to manage New Mexico wild horses on public lands.
WHOA has consistently claimed the horses should be recognized as wild, a legal designation that would entitle them to protection by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
In 2011, the group filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the Bureau of Land Management to prevent the roundup and sale of the free roaming horses in their community. That case claimed Salazar and the BLM violated federal law by not recognizing the horses as “wild.”
The case claimed horse removal would harm members of the public nonprofit group who enjoy observing, photographing and writing about the horses.
A federal judge dismissed the case in 2012 and WHOA appealed the decision. Late last year, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued an order affirming the U.S. District Court’s decision.
The latest lawsuit mentions the same harms, also mentioning that many of the roughly 300 members of the group own property in Placitas “where their real estate value derives in part from the presence of wild horses living in the open spaces around their property.”
WHOA did not return a phone message on Friday asking for comment.
The horse issue has long roiled the Placitas community. Tensions rose during last year’s drought with some residents calling on the Livestock Board to impound the horses. Baca said then that it was the responsibility of individual property owners to impound trespassing horses and present them to the Livestock Board.
The WHOA lawsuit contends the horses cannot be considered “estray” citing a 1994 opinion of former Attorney General and now U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, that said the term “estray” is limited to animals that are domesticated or raised on a farm or ranch.