A judge has granted a temporary restraining order preventing the sale of unbranded horses recently gathered from tribal and public lands in Nevada, saying there is a reasonable possibility some are federally protected mustangs.
The horses were t0 be sold at auction in Fallon, Nevada, on August 17, with advocates fearing most of the unbranded animals would go to slaughter buyers.
The temporary restraining order was issued by a federal court judge, Miranda Du, sitting in Reno, Nevada, as a result of action filed by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, its founding organization Return to Freedom, The Cloud Foundation, the Western Watersheds Project, and advocate Laura Leigh.
They case was filed on their behalf by the public interest firm Meyer, Gltizenstein & Crystal, with local counsel Gordon B. Cowan appearing for the plaintiffs.
The order was sought over the intended sale of the unbranded animals, captured last weekend.
The horses in question were rounded up by the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe with the approval of the US Forest Service and the BLM, said wild horse advocate Laura Leigh, the founder of Wild Horse Education.
A total of 467 horses were delivered to the auction, where they await their fate. An undetermined number of these horses are unbranded. The plaintiffs, allege the horses are likely federally protected wild horses originating from the nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Little Owyhee Herd Management Area.
The judge ruled: “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 orders prohibits the sale of all unbranded horses at the sale, pending a further hearing this Wednesday.
The director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), Suzanne Roy, said: “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.
“We are grateful for this federal court decision, ” Roy said, adding that the groups remained outraged by the federal government’s complicity in the operation. It had, she said, “sentenced hundreds of horses to horrific deaths at slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico”.
Ellie Phipps Price, an AWHPC supporter and owner of the renowned Durell Vineyard in Sonoma, California, said: “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.
“The tribes and the US Government need to choose birth control for wild horses over roundup and slaughter.”
Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom, said it was the legal responsibility of the Forest Service and the BLM to preserve and protect wild horses on 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.”
The agency should not back the sending of wild horses to auction and possible slaughter, DeMayo said.
Wild Horse Education’s Leigh, who travels the western rangelands monitoring BLM roundups, said: “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. 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.”