Two animal advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the U.S. Forest Service from selling wild horses gathered in a round-up in progress at Modoc National Forest, in Northern California.
The American Wild Horse Campaign and the Animal Legal Defense Fund announced the filing in a statement released Monday.
“The Forest Service’s decision to treat these national treasures like trash by selling them by the truckload into the slaughter pipeline is unconscionable. Even worse, this is happening in California, a state that has banned the cruel practice of horse slaughter for two decades,” Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, said in a statement.
The Forest Service has gathered 422 horses — of a planned 1,000 — as of Oct. 20. The horse gather began to reduce a herd of nearly 4,000 that is 10 times larger than what the Forest Service says the land can support.
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While most horses were gathered without injury, two horses had to be treated for lacerations.
In addition, two mares were reported euthanized for unspecified pre-existing conditions and an orphan foal was placed in foster care.
“All involved have been impressed with the quality of horses gathered, though many are showing signs of malnutrition. It is remarkable how quickly most horses settle. The legendary Devil’s Garden (herd) good disposition is evident,” the Forest Service said in a statement.
The horse gather drew attention after the Forest Service announced that, after being put up for adoption for 30 days, horses 10 and older would be made available for sale without limitation, opening them up to purchase by “kill buyers” who could sell the horses to foreign slaughterhouses.
The reason for the sale without limitation is that holding the horses indefinitely would be fiscally irresponsible, a Forest Service spokesman previously told McClatchy.
The Forest Service has since extended the timeline for adoption to 60 days.
Horses younger than 10 will be adopted out through the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees most wild horses and which is restricted from selling to kill buyers.
“The decision to make this extension demonstrates that we are hearing what people have to say and shows we are doing everything we can to make sure gathered horses find homes,” said Modoc National Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams.
In addition to the lawsuit, the Forest Service has faced bipartisan calls to halt the horse gather until assurances could be made that the horses wouldn’t be sold for slaughter.
That included letters from Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican California Assemblywoman Marie Waldron.
More information on the horse gather, included how it may be viewed and how horses may be adopted, is available here.