LEGAL, Siskiyou



Settlement stops Bureau of Land Management’s unlawful roundup of Pokegama herd in southern Oregon

Settlement stops Bureau of Land Management’s unlawful roundup of Pokegama herd in southern Oregon

Earlier this month, Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic settled its federal lawsuit on behalf of Wild Horse Fire Brigade (WHFB), achieving an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that will halt the agency’s unlawful roundup of wild horses from private lands in and around the Pokegama Wild Horse Management Area.

Filed last October, the lawsuit called for an immediate halt to the roundup of wild horses from private property within and adjacent to the Pokegama Herd Management Area in southern Oregon along the California border. The Environmental Advocacy Clinic represented the WHFB in the suit, which sought immediate injunctive relief and challenged BLM’s failure to conduct adequate studies and comply with the law and its own guidance before initiating the roundup.

“The Environmental Advocacy Clinic was excited to partner with WHFB to protect the Pokegama wild horses. More importantly, we were able to put a stop to the illegal removal of horses by BLM, an agency that has persistently shown it has no interest in carrying out its legal mandate to protect these amazing creatures on public lands owned by all of us,” said Michael Harris, former director of the Environmental Advocacy Clinic.

The settlement agreement filed with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on July 19, 2023, ensures that BLM will not move forward with any wild horse roundup in the area without first complying with the full set of applicable laws and guidance, including the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

WHFB Vice President Kelsey Stangebye said, “I want to underscore how important this settlement is for the Pokegama Herd and the future of wild horses living wild and free on the range. There is no doubt in my mind that if the Wild Horse Fire Brigade did not file suit against the BLM based on the illegal roundup, then this herd would have been decimated and removed from the public range with no public attention nor knowledge. This settlement is a victory for the Pokegama Herd to continue to live wild in this herd management area.”

Wild horses are a vital component of managing grassland and forest ecosystems in the area. Their grazing helps reduce and maintain grass and shrubs, effectively mitigating major wildfire hazards. The herd of wild horses even played a crucial role in aiding CALFIRE during the 2018 Klamathon Fire by creating and maintaining firebreaks and safe zones for firefighters.

The Pokegama Herd Management Area, sprawling across 80,885 acres near the California-Oregon border, is home to approximately 230 wild horses. The BLM’s own guidelines recommend maintaining a population of 150-200 animals in a herd to ensure healthy genetic diversity. However, BLM’s unlawful roundup relied on conflicting information suggesting an “appropriate population” of just 30-50 horses, which would have posed serious threats to the herd’s survival given potential inbreeding and genetic erosion. Under this month’s settlement, any future roundup would require adherence to BLM’s guidelines and further analysis under applicable law.

Environmental Advocacy Clinic student attorneys Anokhi Dhamsania, Sarah Finley and Alexius Paul assisted with the litigation.


  1. Interesting Facts:

    Many people in Siskiyou County don’t even know that a significant portion of the Bureau of Land Management’s (‘BLM’) Pokegama Wild Horse Herd Management Area (‘HMA’) extends into Siskiyou County, as seen in the map provided by the BLM. The wild (some call ‘feral’) horses standing in that defined area are officially recognized as ‘Wild Horses’.

    The western edge of that HMA is in the vicinity of Copco Lake, roughly 7-miles west of Jenny Creek. The horses there are designated ‘Wild Horses’ under the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act signed by President Richard Nixon. That said, many (not all) of the wild (so-called ‘feral’) horses living along the Oregon-California border west into Josephine and Jackson and Siskiyou Counties are genetically similar or the same. So what separates a feral (wild) horse from a BLM designated ‘Wild Horse’? Nothing other than the ground that they are standing on.

    The term ‘feral’ as used by some people in regard to wild horses is just a name-tag assigned to wild horses that have wondered-off the protected Herd Management Areas (‘HMAs’) run by the Bureau of Land Management or Wild Horse Territories run by the United States Forest Service.

    The term ‘feral horse(s)’ is nothing more than a construct that is used for legal jurisdictional purposes and has no relevance as to evolutionary biology or genetics of any horse, let alone a wild horse with genetic markers traced back 500,000 years and more, as with some of the local Iberian horses.

    “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” ~ Will Rogers

  2. Oh my, I am so happy to know that there are humans who lovingly and steadfastly are championing a herd of wild ones and are making a huge contribution to the continuing of this species. The illegal and unlAWFUL actions of the BLM/Dept of the Interior to destroy these magnificent animals every day that they go out with their helicopters, heartless employees who set up temp traps with open looking panels which causes lead mares and foals to crash into, thereby breaking their necks, the use of cattle prods to force these frightened, exhausted animals into trailers separating mares, foals, stallions who are banded thru years and the inhumane treatment of our wild ones infuriates me every day. I do not have extra money to support saving these horses but I have obviously been donating occasionally to the WRONG groups as you have so eloquently stated.

  3. Katie Ausmus

    Congratulations! At least some people “realize” w/ “real eyes” the major importance of our wild horses and the huge disservice being done to them!
    B U T, what about all the other herds and the likelihood that their family units within the herd get ripped apart by the completely unnecessary helicopter round ups?? The BLM insists that the horse numbers are too big so they even kill, traumatize and of course separate these majestic animals by helicopter to be sent to holding pens w/ their entire life purpose decimated! The cruelty speaks volumes for the detriment of the greed that drives our government and our population at large.
    I am a horse lover w/ great admiration for all horses but the future for our ( yes, yours and mine ) wild horses looks very bleak.
    So, Please tell me. What can I do to help the iconic beautiful wild horse??
    I imagine that the majority of the USA population has no idea of the cruel punishment our government bestows upon the wild horses on our public lands where they are to be protected as voted by the people!
    I want to help. What can I do?They have no voice. So how can I speak for them?

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