Judge Grants TRO to Stop Sale of Wild Horses At NV Slaughter Auction

Order could delay tomorrow’s sale of nearly 500 horses at Fallon Livestock Exchange

Reno, Nevada (August 16, 2013 . . . A federal court judge in Reno, NV has granted a coalition of wild horse advocacy and conservation groups a Temporary Restraining Order to block the sale of unbranded horses at a slaughter auction tomorrow in Fallon, Nevada. The groups sued to stop the sale of unbranded horses who were captured last weekend on public and tribal lands in northern Nevada, alleging that unbranded horses were likely federally-protected wild horses originating from the nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Little Owyhee Herd Management Area.

The order throws into question tomorrow’s auction at the Fallon Livestock Exchange, where nearly 500 horses are sitting in pens awaiting their fate. The horses in question were rounded up by the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe with approval of the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM. In response to the lawsuit filed by the public interest firm Meyer, Gltizenstein & Crystal with local counsel Gordon B. Cowan on behalf of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, its founding organization Return to Freedom, The Cloud Foundation, the Western Watersheds Project and advocate Laura Leigh, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda M. Du found:

“Plaintiffs have shown serious questions …that wild horses were improperly rounded up during the gather from August 11-13, 2013. .. Plaintiffs have demonstrated an immediate threat of irreparable harm if the status quo is not maintained, that is the sale of wild horses and their possible slaughter. . . . The public interest is served when the Court maintains the status quo to ensure wild horses are not improperly removed and auctioned for sale to potentially be slaughtered because of an agency action.”

Du's TRO prohibits the sale of all unbranded horses at tomorrow's slaughter auction until the hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, August 21, 2013.

“Judge Du has stepped in to do what the federal government refused to do: act to prevent federally protected wild horses from being sold at a slaughter auction,” said Suzanne Roy, Director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. “We are grateful for this federal court decision, but remain outraged by the federal government’s complicity in this dirty operation that has sentenced hundreds of horses to horrific deaths at slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico.”

“Like the nearly 170 horses that I rescued from this livestock auction three years ago, many of these horses are wild horses who were removed from federal lands. They were denied federal protection under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and the judge has taken a stand for all those mares, foals, yearlings and mature stallions who are a day away from being sold to kill buyers and sent to slaughter,” said Ellie Phipps Price, AWHPC supporter and owner of the renowned Durell Vineyard in Sonoma, California. “The tribes and the U.S. government need to choose birth control for wild horses over roundup and slaughter.”

"We want to get to the bottom of this and understand how wild horses may have been compromised through stealth negotiations between the federal government and the tribe,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom. “It is the legal responsibility of the Forest Service and the BLM to preserve and protect wild horses on our public lands. When wild horses roam outside of their designated Herd Management Areas, it should be the concern of these agencies to return them to their rangelands- not support covert horse trading deals sending wild horses to auction and slaughter.”

"I wish we could save them all," states Ginger Kathrens, noted wildlife filmmaker and Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation.  "I hope this ruling sends a message to the Forest Service --business as usual is a thing of the past. I'd like to thank my caring colleagues and our our attorneys for their tireless work to save our wild horses."

“Sometimes the fight to protect our wild horses is difficult and complex. This decision shows that when we all work together and stay the course, we can achieve our mutual goals,” said Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education. “I am proud to be part of this effort. Together, we can turn this around to save America’s mustangs on our public lands in the West.”

A total of 467 horses were captured by the tribe and delivered to the slaughter auction, where they await their fate. An undetermined number of these horses are unbranded and likely to be wild horses. The Forest Service has acknowledged that most of these horses will be purchased by kill buyers and trucked to slaughter plants in Canada or Mexico. Photographs of the horses show hundreds of mares and foals, along with yearlings and adults crammed into pens at the stockyard.

For more information, please see:

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, founded in 2004 by Return to Freedom, is a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come.

Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity and habitat of America’s wild horses through sanctuary, education and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. Return to Freedom provides a safe haven to over 300 wild horses and burros at its sanctuary in Santa Barbara, California and in Nevada where the group is planning to create a larger wild horse preserve.

The Cloud Foundation, Inc., a 501c(3) charity named for the wild stallion, Cloud, is dedicated to the preservation of wild horses and burros on public lands with special emphasis on isolated, genetically unique herds like Cloud’s in the Pryor Mountains of Montana.

Western Watersheds Project is a non-profit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation. The group works to influence and improve public lands management in 8 western states with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250,000,000 acres of western public lands. 

Laura Leigh is the founder of Wild Horse Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting America’s wild herds from roundup, slaughter and extinction.