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Judge refuses to stop horse roundup

RENO, Nev. - A federal judge in Nevada who handed horse-protection advocates a rare victory last fall has rejected their latest bid to block government roundups of free-roaming mustangs in the West, saying they will have to go to Congress if they think the animals are being treated inhumanely and need more protection.

US District Judge Howard McKibben granted a temporary restraining order Aug. 30 that cut short a roundup near the Nevada-Utah line after he said a helicopter flew too close to a horse, violating the law.

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But he said during a hearing in Reno on Thursday that he was denying a new injunction request from the Texas-based Wild Horse Freedom Federation partly because the Bureau of Land Management has made some positive changes since then. He also said he can not issue injunctions based on speculation about future abuses.

“This court is not Congress, not an administrative agency,’’ he said. “We are not the first branch of government. We are not the second branch. We’re here to consider grievances.’’

His ruling was a disappointment to horse protection advocates who were buoyed by his court order last fall when he took the bureau to task for its actions at the Triple B complex roundup near the Nevada-Utah line northwest of Ely, Nev.

Erik Petersen, a Justice Department lawyer for the BLM, said the agency took McKibben’s earlier order seriously and responded with its own internal review of the Triple B roundup “in great part in response to this court’s ruling on the temporary restraining order.’’

The BLM said in a formal review made public in December that some mustangs in the Triple B complex were whipped in the face, kicked in the head, dragged by a rope around the neck, and repeatedly shocked with electrical prods, but the agency concluded none of the mistreatment rose to the level of being inhumane.

The government’s wild horse program is intended to protect wild horse herds and the rangelands that support them.

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