By Stephen Ward
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Federal land managers said on Wednesday they have decided to scale back a disputed roundup of wild horses in Nevada next month and to postpone the planned castration of stallions as part of the operation.
The decision comes a week after a group of wild-horse activists filed suit challenging plans by the Bureau of Land Management, a U.S. Interior Department agency, to geld 200 wild stallions over a six- to 10-year period in vast stretches of open range called the Pancake Complex, near Ely in eastern Nevada.
"We decided we're going to go ahead with the gather, but instead of doing the gelding portion, we are not going to be doing that right off the bat," said Heather Emmons, a spokeswoman for the BLM's wild horse and burro program.
The agency also has decided to reduce the number of wild horses inside a 150,000-acre area within the complex by half, rather than eliminating the herds there entirely as originally planned. "Zeroing out" of the Jakes Wash Herd Management Area was another aspect of the roundup plan challenged in court.
The plaintiffs accuse the BLM of violating the 1971 "Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act" and other environmental laws under a plan to round up -- via helicopter stampede -- 800 to 1,000 wild horses from the Pancake Complex as a whole every two to three years. The first capture operation is set to run from January 12 through February 22.
Emmons said the BLM filed a joint stipulation in court spelling out which operations the agency will implement during the January 12 roundup.
In August, the BLM postponed a similar roundup planned for Wyoming, where the agency planned to remove 700 wild mustangs and return 177 castrated stallions to the land.
Wild-horse advocates have called for a moratorium on all government roundups of mustangs, saying such operations can irreparably harm America's wild-horse herds.
The BLM says that is untenable because mustang herds can double in size every four years, leading to overpopulation of the range that causes soil erosion, sedimentation of streams and damage to wildlife habitat.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)