San Francisco, California - Late Monday, advocates filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to block the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from selling federally-protected wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in the Modoc National Forest without limitation on slaughter. The motion was filed by one of the nation’s leading public interest environmental law firms, Meyer, Glitzenstein and Eubanks LLP, on behalf of the American Wild Horse Campaign, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and citizen Carla Bowers.
The USFS has stated that it intends to sell recently captured wild horses for $1 a piece by the truckload (36 at a time) without limitation on slaughter as soon as January 15, 2019 at the Double Devil Corrals outside of Alturas, California. The USFS is proceeding with the plan despite the fact that the sale/purchase of wild horses for slaughter is a felony under California law, and in spite of a strongly worded letter from the California Attorney General urging the Forest Service not to undertake this illegal action.
“The Forest Service’s plan to sell potentially hundreds of federally protected wild horses for slaughter marks a radical change in policy from previous administrations, which abided by the no-slaughter policy imposed by Congress for federally-protected wild horses,” said Bill Eubanks, attorney for the plaintiffs. “We are respectfully asking the court to enjoin the federal government from proceeding with this lethal plan, which clearly violates both state and federal law.”
“The Forest Service has shown a complete lack of regard for California law and the will of the American people with this terrible plan to sell California wild horses for $1 a piece without limitation on slaughter,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC). “These iconic, federally-protected American mustangs must not be sold to foreign slaughter plants that will brutally butcher them to supply foreign markets for horse meat for human consumption.”
“The Forest Service’s sudden abandonment of its longstanding policy to restrict the sale of wild horses to slaughterhouses violates multiple state and federal laws, and we are using every tool at our disposal to make sure those slaughterhouse sales do not occur,” said Stephen Wells, executive director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
The Forest Service’s plan to slaughter wild horses from California’s largest and most significant remaining wild horse herd has drawn widespread public opposition. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and California Assemblymember Todd Gloria and 22 of his fellow state legislators are among the elected officials who have written to the Forest Service in opposition to the plan.
Congress routinely includes language in annual Department of Interior appropriations prohibiting the sale of federally protected wild horses and burros for slaughter. The However, the Forest Service has no line item appropriation for wild horse management and it is taking advantage of this loophole to attempt to sell the Devil's Garden horses without limitation for slaughter, which will allow middlemen known as kill buyers to purchase them, transport them across the border to horse slaughter plants in Canada or Mexico.
The parties in the lawsuit have agreed to a schedule that will allow the court to rule on the injunction motion before the Forest Service’s January 15 deadline for selling horses without limitation for slaughter. At stake is the future of hundreds of the 932 wild horses rounded up with helicopters from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory between October 10 and November 8, 2018. The Forest Service recently offered older horses for adoption and sale with limitation on slaughter at an event that placed just 44 horses.