AWHC Sues State of Nevada to Block Virginia Range Mustang Giveaway

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Ownership Transfer Scheme Illegal and Places Community’s Wild Horses in Danger of Being Sold for Slaughter

Carson City, NV (March 19, 2018) . . . The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) and Silver Springs resident Cynthia Ashe today filed a lawsuit in Nevada First Judicial District Court in Carson City to stop the State from transferring ownership of a herd of historic and locally-cherished mustangs living in the Virginia Range.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys William M. Hake and John H. Podesta, senior partners with the national law firm Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, contends that the giveaway violates state law and constitutes a breach of contract of two Cooperative Agreements between AWHC and the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) for the rescue and humane management of Virginia Range horses.  The NDA abruptly terminated those agreements on October 25, 2017.

“We’re filing legal action today to stop the Nevada Department of Agriculture from running roughshod over the will the people, the intent of the legislature and the stated commitment of Governor Brian Sandoval to properly manage and preserve the Virginia Range mustangs by partnering with non-profit management organizations,” said Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of AWHC. “Instead of living up to the commitment, the State wants to give these cherished horses away to a new owner, who will then be legally allowed to round them up and send them to slaughter.”

Mr. Hake added, “The Virginia Range mustangs are a Nevada state treasure. Just as you wouldn’t use Lake Tahoe or Ruby Lake for a sewage treatment plant, or allow condo development in the Valley of Fire, you can’t wipe out the Virginia Range wild horses.  That is what will happen if the State gives them away. Only the State has the ability to ‘manage,’ rather than ‘dispose of’ the horses, because while the State is immune from liability, the new ‘owner’ of the horses would assume the risk of any injuries or damage. That risk is uninsurable.  If the horses are given away to a private entity, they will be systematically rounded up and slaughtered.  Therefore, if this treasure is to be saved for future generations of Nevadans, the State must be the one to do it.  AWHC remains committed to partnering with the State to do just that.”

On January 30, 2018, the NDA released a request for proposals (RFP) to transfer ownership of nearly 3,000 wild horses living in the 500-square-mile area of the Virginia Range to a private entity. By law, the Virginia Range horses are considered “feral livestock.” AWHC’s lawsuit charges that the RFP violates Nevada state law (NRS 569), which authorizes the NDA to dispose of feral and estray livestock only by two methods: (a) by sale through an agent appointed by the Department or (b) by placement through a Cooperative Agreement.

The lawsuit alleges that the NDA is also violating state law by bypassing legal requirements for marking, branding or identifying with an individual animal identification before sale or placement and for advertising individual animals before sale or placement to give owners of “estray” livestock the chance to reclaim their “property.”

Plaintiff Cynthia Ashe is one such owner whose rights would be violated by the proposed transfer. Her mare, Cece, has been at large in the Virginia Range for more than a year. If the NDA proceeds with the plan, Ms. Ashe’s horse could be given away to a new owner, who would then be free to sell her for slaughter.

Regarding the breach of contract claim, AWHC alleges that the NDA cancelled the Cooperative Agreements without warning or reason and that the organization remains ready, willing and able to uphold its end of the Cooperative Agreements signed with the NDA in 2013 and 2015.

In response to today’s filing of litigation, Mr. Lance Gilman, Director of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center (TRI) and strong defender of the Virginia Range mustangs, said, “It's indeed sad that the Nevada Department of Agriculture has put the AWHC in the position where litigation was necessary.  We at TRI made every effort in repeatedly asking the NDA to just meet with the key stakeholders in the Virginia Range, including the global tech companies here, along with the advocate groups.  We were rebuffed at every turn.  I'm still hopeful that Governor Sandoval, who has been our white knight here in Northern Nevada for his whole term, will step in and appoint a mediator and direct the NDA to negotiate with stakeholders and the advocate groups.  This lawsuit shows the unshakable resolve of residents in Northern Nevada to save the horses...and I fully support them."

Last Monday, Mr. Gilman and TRI Project Manager Kris Thompson joined AWHC at a press conference to announce their support for the litigation. Mr. Gilman spoke about the support for the TRI businesses – including powerhouse companies Tesla, Switch and Blockchains – for the protection of the Virginia Range mustangs. The TRI comprises approximately one-third of the Virginia Range horses' habitat.

Also at Monday’s press conference, AWHC also released results of a poll conducted March 9-10, 2018 that shows 3 in 4 Nevadans want the State to continue the public/private partnership for humane management of the Virginia Range horses, with only 17 percent supporting the state’s giveaway scheme.  In addition, 86 percent of poll respondents agree that mustangs are “a defining symbol of Nevada and the American West, and they should be protected and humanely managed, not slaughtered.”

AWHC will seek an injunction to stop the NDA from proceeding with the RFP and encourage the State to return to the table to negotiate a comprehensive management agreement that will protect the Virginia Range mustangs and public safety through a public/private partnership.    

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. Its grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, humane and public interest organizations.

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