Wild horses at center of complex legal fight in Denver federal court

DENVER -- A battle started in federal court on Monday over rounding up of thousands of wild horses that live on millions of acres of land in the West.

The Bureau of Land Management removes the animals from public land each year.

RELATED: Government considers euthanizing 45,000 wild horses

The 10th  Circuit Court of Appeals is deciding whether federal officials broke the law by failing to consider alternatives to the roundups and whether the BLM failed to adequately determine an "appropriate management level" of horses.

"BLM has proven itself unable to effectively manage the horses over 40 years given politics, money and just the difficulty of the program," sheep ranchers attorney Connie Brooks said.

It's a complicated litigation with a number of sides interested in the outcome. It involves state and federal governments, preservationists, rancher associations and BLM interests with wild horses in the middle.

"The BLM is essentially turning control of our public lands over to private livestock interests that want to wipe out the wild horses and send them to slaughter," said Suzanne Roy with the American Wild Horse Preservation.

Wyoming is suing to protect the private property owners' rights.

"So you have both the private land owners and the Bureau in a tough spot, and I think what you heard (Monday) is that the Bureau has arrived at the best solution to a very difficult problem," Wyoming Assistant Attorney General Eric Peterson said.

The BLM has scheduled its next wild horse roundup for mid-October, likely before the court rules on what one of the judges called an "intractable problem."