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Judge asked to block wild horse roundup

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An animal protection group asked a federal judge Wednesday to block a plan to round up about 2,500 wild horses to remove them from a Nevada range.

The mustang roundup planned for Dec. 28 would be one of the largest in Nevada in recent years. Federal officials plan to use helicopters to force the horses into holding pens before placing them for adoption or sending them to long-term holding corrals in the Midwest.

Mustang advocates say use of the helicopters is inhumane because some of the animals are traumatized, injured or killed.

The roundup is part of the Bureau of Land Management's overall strategy to remove thousands of mustangs from public lands across the West to protect wild horse herds and the rangelands that support them. The bureau estimates about half of the nearly 37,000 wild mustangs live in Nevada, with others concentrated in Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Another 32,000 horses and burros are cared for in corrals and pastures in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

A lawyer for In Defense of Animals, a California-based group that advocates on behalf of animal protection, called the roundup plan illegal.

"The BLM's policy of mass removal and stockpiling of horses was never authorized by Congress when it protected these iconic animals in 1971 as an important part of our national heritage," said William Spriggs, a Washington lawyer who argued against the roundup plan in court Wednesday.

In Defense of Animals and wildlife biologist Craig Downer sued the BLM last month to block the Nevada roundup. Terri Farley, a Nevada author whose books about wild horses target young readers, joined the lawsuit Monday.

Erik Petersen, a Justice Department lawyer who represents the BLM, said the roundup is needed because more than 3,100 horses and burros crowd the Calico Mountain Complex in northwestern Nevada -- about five times as many horses as the land can handle.