The American Wild Horse Campaign is suing the state to block the Department of Agriculture from turning over the Virginia Range horses to a private organization.
AWHC has been arguing the plan would result in the horses — which that group describes as wild mustangs — being sold for slaughter.
Legally, however, the horses are neither mustangs nor wild. They're classified as estrays or feral livestock and, therefore, aren't protected by the federal wild horse and burro protection act.
The lawsuit was filed by the national firm of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman and Dicker and charges the state's plan to transfer ownership of the herd violates state law and an illegal breach of contract for canceling the cooperative agreement with AWHC to manage the herd.
He charged because of that potential liability, if the horses are transferred to a private group, "they will be systematically rounded up and slaughtered."
The fight over the horses started after the Agriculture Department canceled its cooperative agreements with AWHC to manage the estimated 3,000 horses in the Virginia Range. AWHC officials say they still haven't been told why agriculture decided to end the agreement.
Lawyers for the California-based American Wild Horse Campaign and Cynthia Ashe of Silver Springs who fears her missing horse could end up at a slaughterhouse has joined the lawsuit. One of her mares got loose from a fenced enclosure and "took off with a band of wild horses" in the Virginia Range in 2016, the AWHC said.