Fed’l Court Allows Wild Horse Advocates to Intervene in Rancher Lawsuit

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Advocates say commercial interests cannot treat public lands as private

SAN FRANCISCO (August 8, 2019)... Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California issued an order granting a motion by the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and local resident Carla Bowers to intervene in a lawsuit filed by private ranchers against the United States Forest Service. The lawsuit seeks to compel the agency to immediately round up 2,000 wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory  in the Modoc National Forest in order to maximize taxpayer-subsidized commercial livestock grazing on the public land there.  

“We’re grateful that the Court has recognized the legitimate public interest in protecting America’s wild horses and has given us the ability to ensure that those interests are adequately represented in this court case,” said Brieanah Schwartz, Government Relations and Policy Counsel for the AWHC. “The public lands belong to all Americans and special interests of the ranching industry cannot dictate federal wild horse management policy.”

The Territory contains one of California’s largest and most significant remaining wild horse populations. Ranchers who hold permits to graze cattle and sheep in the mustangs’ habitat claim that the Forest Service is legally obligated to remove horses from the Forest, but AWHC and ALDF say federal law makes clear that removal of wild horses is not required simply because their population exceeds the agency’s imposed population limit. Instead, the groups say that the Forest Service has discretion to manage the horses humanely in a variety of ways, including reducing commercial livestock grazing, use of scientifically-recommended fertility control and smaller, incremental removals over time to assure placement in quality, adoptive homes.

Just last week, the Forest Service announced its plan to conduct another roundup of the Devil’s Garden at the same time as it released a census showing far fewer mustangs live in the Forest than previously claimed.

Under pressure from local ranching interests, the Forest Service seeks to reduce the wild horse population to between 206-402 in the Forest while authorizing over 3,700 cow/calf pairs and 2,900 sheep to graze for six months a year on the public lands there.  

As an alternative to the unsustainable roundup and removal of wild horses, AWHC had proposed implementing and funding a pilot fertility control project to humanely reduce population growth rates in the herd, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. However, the Forest Service has declined to proceed with the offer. 

More information on the Devil’s Garden wild horse situation can be found here


The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is a national wild horse advocacy organization whose grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 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.

The groups are being represented by the public interest law firm Eubanks & Associates LLC.