May 2011 Highlights


Attorney Gordon Cowan reviewing Excerpts of Record heading to the Ninth Circuit

The Fight Continues for the Public’s Right to Know

Late last week the battle to view the government’s handling of wild horses and burros went to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Brief begins in part:

“A journalist published photos and videos of the methods employed by the government when rounding up and warehousing wild horses removed from public lands. The photos sparked public debate and concern. The photos resultantly became unpopular with the government. The government then crafted protocol that continually changes, which effectively forecloses meaningful public observation of these same activities.”

This battle effectively began last year with a companion case heard for the summer Owyhee roundup. That suit brought two issues to the table: actual foaling season and public land closure. The documentation on foaling season was never heard as an alleged water emergency was declared after the suit was filed. Yet Reno attorney Gordon Cowan won on the land closure issue for Plaintiff Laura Leigh. Blanket closure of public land can no longer occur.

The issue of transparency is one of great concern to Leigh. “If there is nothing to hide,” asks Leigh “Why go through such lengths to keep the trap pens, holding facilities and records of sale secret?”

Instances of discriminatory access continue to occur and a convoluted paper trail has been uncovered since this suit began.

The paper trail includes documentation that clearly shows that the Indian Lakes facility the Bureau of Land Management claims to be closed to the public, is actually contracted to give weekly public tours through 2015.

“Public debate is vital to any Democratic process,” states attorney Cowan “If the information utilized in debate is subjected to content control the debate is moot, not the argument.”

“Mootness” is a common thread in many legal cases dealing with wild horse and burro management. A wild horse roundup lasts just a few days and the judicial process can take years. Yet when you have an issue that revolves around repetitive conduct the concept needs closer scrutiny.

That scrutiny will begin shortly in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Brief is included in Wild Horse Education’s Newsletter:


Read all about the filing in the Ninth Circuit in our Newsletter.