By Dianna Stallings, Alamogordo Daily News
RUIDOSO >> Last week, when a federal judge lifted a temporary restraining order clearing the way for the sale of 149 unbranded wild horses captured by the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe in northern Nevada, wild mustang advocates reacted swiftly.
Realizing the unbranded wild horses likely were bound for slaughter in Canada and Mexico, Ginger Kathrens, of the Cloud Foundation, reached out to Victoria McCullough, of the Triumph Project in Wellington, Fla. McCullough, in turn, asked Florida Sen. Joseph Abruzzo to begin negotiating with the tribe and an offer was accepted.
Behind the scenes, Kathrens said the collaborative efforts involved many groups committed to horse protection. Besides the Cloud Foundation, they include Suzanne Roy and Deniz Bolbol, of American Wild Horse Preservation campaign; Ellie Phipps Price, a northern California businesswoman; Madeleine Pickens, of Saving America's Mustang; Jim Hart, of Liberty for Horses; Sally Summers, of Horse Power; and Neda DeMayo, of Return to Freedom, who agreed to provide homes for the 149 animals, which includes 16 mares with foals.
"What an incredible, collaborative effort by all involved." Kathrens said. "Acting as a team, and with Victoria's tremendous support, we are able ensure a future for mustangs that were a heartbeat away from a long journey to slaughter."
Through the collaborative efforts of the wild horse advocacy groups and private parties, the purchase of all 149 wild horses was negotiated and the horses went to their permanent and temporary homes in California and Nevada.
Kathrens contended that the purchase would not have been necessary if officials with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had fulfilled their duty to protect wild horses and burros as charged by the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act. The Wild Horse & Burro Act imposes criminal liability for "willfully" removing wild horses from public lands, converting wild horses to private use, maliciously causing the harassment of a wild horse or selling a wild horse on private land. This entire roundup should have been stopped by the two federal agencies until they determined that no wild horses would be included, she said.
Initially, the Forest Service staff planned to bankroll the helicopter roundup of horses from Forest Service, BLM and reservation land and transport horses to a slaughter auction, but the Forest Service issued a "stand down" when horse advocacy groups threatened to file suit for noncompliance with environmental regulations and violation of first amendment rights, according to a Cloud Foundation spokesman. Unfortunately, the tribe proceeded with the roundup and removal with the intention of selling all the horses at the Fallon Auction house, known for selling to kill buyers, she said.
Both Forest Service and tribal members claimed that all the horses were domestic and owned by the tribe, but after examining each of the 467 horses, 149 were discovered to be unbranded. Under the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, "wild free-roaming horses and burros" means all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States. The horses were rounded up in an area only a few miles from the Little Owyhee Herd Management Area.
In a brief statement last week, Forest Service officials said to prevent further damage to the rangeland ecosystem, they planned to remove 400 horses in remote parts of the forest to transfer to the Fort McDermott Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, who owned the horses. According to information from the Forest Service website, the preferred solution to overpopulation of wild horses on public land is private adoption or being sent to federally-funded sanctuaries or long-term holding facilities in Oklahoma and Kansas. With no natural predators in most areas, horse populations double every five years without population control.
Had the advocacy groups not learned about the shift in the round-up, Kathrens said she's confident that all of the horses gathered would have been transported to a slaughter auction at taxpayer expense.
"This is a blatant misuse of American taxpayer dollars," she said. "With 80 percent of Americans opposed to slaughter, why should taxpayer dollars be used to fulfill this action?"
More than 300 branded horses were sold at auction Saturday. About 150 were purchased by local residents and rescue groups, the remainder were purchased by kill buyers