Judge blocks auction of unbranded horses

Wild horse advocates Saturday hailed a judge’s ruling that temporarily stops unbranded horses gathered by a Nevada tribe from being auctioned for possible slaughter.

The ruling late Friday by U.S. District Judge Miranda Du came the same day Du rejected another request to block Saturday’s auction in a separate action against the BLM.

But in a five-page order Friday night, Du said a coalition of wild horse advocates raised “serious questions” that animals were improperly rounded up by the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribe under an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. She issued a temporary restraining order and scheduled another hearing Wednesday in Reno.

Advocates say the unbranded horses are federally protected under the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

More than 400 horses were gathered last week and slated for auction at the Fallon Livestock Exchange. About 100 of them have no identifying marks of ownership, advocates claim.

Horse advocates claim the agreement that allowed the tribe to gather horses on Forest Service and tribal lands provide no safeguards to protect wild horses.

In granting the restraining order, Du said there is evidence that 5 to 20 percent of the horses gathered by the tribe were unbranded and may be protected.

Deniz Bolbol, with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said wild horse advocates were at the auction site Saturday to check horses for brands and to ensure no unbranded animals were sold. She said they also were looking for any horses with newly applied identifying markings.

“We need to be able to independently verify that the horses going to sale are branded, and not freshly branded,” she said.

State brand inspectors 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.”

But Bolbol countered that tribal members could have staked claims to the animals after they were gathered. Advocates argue that those unbranded horses likely migrated off the BLM’s adjacent wild horse herd management area that covers nearly 700 square miles near the Nevada-Oregon line.

Maxine Smart, chairwoman of the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone tribe, said all the horses were gathered on reservation land. Some of the horses belonged to tribal members who recently died and the animals were claimed by family members, she said.

Smart said an overpopulation of horses is damaging the range and threatening public safety.

“We love horses just as much as anybody,” she said earlier, “but when they pose problems to the rangelands and the roads on the reservation that becomes a concern to us.”


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