Advocacy Groups File Lawsuit to Block Slaughter of California Wild Horses

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San Francisco, CA (October 22, 2018) . . . Late Friday, two California-based national advocacy organizations filed a federal lawsuit to block the U.S. Forest Service from selling federally-protected wild horses in California for slaughter. The lawsuit, filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the American Wild Horse Campaign, aims to protect wild horses currently being rounded up from the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory in the Modoc National Forest near Alturas, California.

Breaking with past policy and practice, the Forest Service intends to sell captured wild horses over age 10 “without limitation” on slaughter after a period of 60 days. This would allow middlemen known as kill buyers to purchase the horses and truck them across the border where they would be horrifically butchered in slaughter plants to produce horsemeat for human consumption overseas.

“The vast majority of Americans want our iconic wild horses protected on our public lands, not slaughtered,” said Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of the American Wild Horse Campaign. “The Forest Service’s decision to treat these national treasures like trash by selling them by the truckload into the slaughter pipeline is unconscionable. Even worse, this is happening in California, a state that has banned the cruel practice of horse slaughter for two decades.”

“The Forest Service’s sudden decision to knowingly permit unrestricted sales of wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory will likely cause hundreds of wild horses to end up slaughtered,” said Stephen Wells, executive director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “The government’s haphazard and horrifying change in policy failed to consider public input and violates several laws that protect these iconic creatures.”

The legal complaint, produced on behalf of the plaintiffs by William Eubanks of Meyer Glitzenstein and Eubanks, alleges that the Forest Service broke several federal laws in dramatically altering its longstanding policy and practice of selling horses “with limitations” on slaughter without engaging in required decision-making processes and analysis. The plan to sell horses without limitation on slaughter is also violates California Penal Code section 598c, which makes the holding and export of horses for slaughter for human consumption a felony in the state.

The Forest Service is in the process of using helicopters to round up 1,000 wild horses from the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory. An estimated 300 horses age 10 and over are being sent to Forest Service holding corrals in the Modoc National Forest, where they will be sold for 60 days “with limitation” for $25 a piece, 24 horses per buyer. After 60 days, the Forest Service will sell remaining horses “without limitation” for $1 a piece, 36 horses per week.

Approximately 700 younger horses are being sent to the Bureau of Land Management’s Litchfield Holding Corrals in Susanville to be prepared and offered for adoption. Any horses not adopted after one year may face sale without limitation as well.

The Forest Service’s roundup and sale-for-slaughter plan has drawn widespread national outrage, national media scrutiny, and sharp rebuke from California’s senior U.S. Senator, Dianne Feinstein as well as 24 members of the state legislature.

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The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is a national wild horse advocacy organization whose grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.

Meyer, Glitzenstein & Eubanks, LLP, is the nation’s leading public interest law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., and Ft. Collins, Colorado.