RENO (AP) - Wild-horse advocates have filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the federal government's plans to remove about 1,700 mustangs from the range in eastern Nevada, claiming officials failed to show the animals are a threat to the land.
An advocacy group and two animal activists were questioning whether the Bureau of Land Management's plan complied with a provision of the 1971 federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act that allows roundups only after determining the mustangs are a threat to the "thriving natural ecological balance" of an area.
"They have not done it in this case," said attorney Rachel Fazio, who represents Cloud Foundation, the Colorado-based horse advocacy group. "The range is currently in a state of natural balance, and there's no indication these horses are causing any type of damage. The BLM doesn't have the legal authority to remove these animals."
The lawsuit, filed the complaint last week in U.S. District Court in Reno, named Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the federal agency, Director Bob Abbey and two BLM field managers in Nevada.
BLM spokeswoman Heather Jasinski said the agency was reviewing the lawsuit.
Last month, the federal agency announced plans to remove 1,726 horses beginning July 7 from the herd management areas near the Utah border, about 70 miles southeast of Elko. It said the remote areas should have 472 to 889 horses.
The agency delayed the start of the roundup to July 16 to allow U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben to consider the case. A hearing on the activists' request for a preliminary injunction to halt the roundup is scheduled for July 14.
Activists' past lawsuits to stop BLM horse gathers have been largely unsuccessful.
BLM officials said they have a mandate under federal law to remove "excess" horses to sustain the health of herds, rangelands and wildlife.
The bureau annually removes thousands of horses from the range in the West and sends them to holding pens, where they are prepared for adoption or transfer to long-term corrals in the Midwest.
About 33,000 wild horses roam freely in 10 Western states, with about half the animals in Nevada. An additional 40,000 horses are kept in government-funded facilities.