RENO — Wild-horse advocates are seeking an emergency court order to block the sale of hundreds of what they say are federally protected mustangs rounded up illegally by a Nevada tribe and headed for an auction that likely will send them to slaughter.
Under pressure from the same critics, the U.S. Forest Service this week pulled the plug on plans for a $120,000 government roundup of hundreds of horses in collaboration with the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe near the Oregon border.
But the agency agreed to let the tribe go forward with gathering up to 700 horses on its own, with plans to sell them at a livestock auction Saturday in Fallon.
Lawyers for the Wild Horse Preservation Campaign said in letters to the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that the roundups are illegal because the U.S. agencies are responsible for protecting the horses under the Wild Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. They said U.S. land managers also failed to conduct the necessary environmental analysis before any such roundup could occur.
Wild Horse Education, another group involved in a protracted legal battle with the BLM over Nevada roundups, filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Reno late Wednesday against the BLM’s parent Interior Department requesting a temporary restraining order until DNA testing confirms the horses did not originate on federal land.
U.S. land managers and tribal leaders said earlier they would sell only tribally owned horses and branded horses of others that were trespassing on tribal land. They said branded horses would be returned to rightful owners who claimed them.
Wild Horse Education leader Laura Leigh submitted photos of more than a dozen horses she said clearly are unbranded among the more than 400 being held at the Fallon Livestock Auction yard for sale to bidders that she and others say include buyers for foreign slaughterhouses.
Nevada Agriculture Department officials confirmed Thursday some of the horses likely will end up going to slaughter. But officials for the BLM and Forest Service said the horses are the property of the tribe and they have no legal jurisdiction to halt the sale.
“The BLM will not be testing the horses that the tribe is auctioning,” BLM spokeswoman Erica Haspiel-Szlosek said in an email Thursday to The Associated Press. “These horses are claimed as the property of the tribe; they are not protected under the Wild Horse & Burro Act.”
Deniz Bolbol of the Wild Horse Preservation Campaign said in a court declaration that Forest Service officials confirmed to her that as part of the tribal agreement, the Forest Service had obtained authorization from the BLM to push horses from adjoining BLM lands onto USFS and tribal lands as part of the roundup.
USFS spokeswoman Christie Kalkowski said a Nevada state brand inspector will certify the horses for sale, but that her agency has nothing to do with the auction and all questions should be directed to the tribe.
Tribal chairperson Maxine Smart could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
Flint Wright, Nevada’s state animal industry administrator, said at least three-fourths of the 467 horses gathered have an identifiable brand and that others have been “identified by consensus through the tribe with affidavits to back up ownership.”
He said there’s no way to tell who will purchase the horses. He said horse advocates are welcome to bid on the horses, but “if they are unable, the horses will most likely be sold to slaughter buyers.”