Churchill County Sheriff Ben Trotter and wild horse advocates attended Saturday’ auction at the Fallon Livestock Exchange but for different reasons.
While Trotter and two reserve deputies ensured that order was kept, the advocates were checking for brands to ensure that no unbranded horses were sold.
The CCSO, said Trotter, was there to keep the peace after the owner received telephone threats last week. He also said threats were posted on various social media sites.
“There had been some threats against the owner and premises, but no one did anything dangerous,” Trotter said.
According to Trotter, the exchange owner had some confrontations with advocates on the day of the auction.
“Some of the advocates had a hard time following the livestock exchange rules, but they cooperated after talking to us,” he said.
Advocates spent the day at the livestock exchange watching the auction.
“We need to be able to independently verify that the horses going to sale are branded and not freshly branded,” said Deniz Bolbol of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.
The advocates’ presence at the livestock exchange came on the heels of a judge’s ruling late Friday that temporarily halted horses being sold for possible slaughter. A Nevada tribe had gathered the unbranded horses.
In addition to the late ruling, U.S. District Judge Miranda Du also ruled earlier in the day to reject a request to block the auction. She said evidence shows about 5-20 percent of the gathered horses were unbranded and may be protected by the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
Du has scheduled another hearing for today in Reno.
Trotter said the CCSO delivered a restraining order at 7 a.m., and because the unbranded horses had to be sorted from the branded ones, Trotter said the auction time was pushed back four hours.
Trotter and his two reserve deputies left late in the afternoon, but the sheriff said his on duty deputies were aware of the auction and were in the vicinity if called.
Du said wild horse advocates presented concerns that the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe in northern Humboldt County near the Oregon border improperly rounded up the horses under an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service; consequently more than 400 horses were gathered for the auction, but advocates said about 100 had no identifying marks of ownership.
State brand inspectors countered and said about three-fourths of the 467 horses had an identifiable brand, while the tribe had affidavits to support ownership of the others.
Bolbol said tribal members, though, could have staked claims to the animals after they migrated off an adjacent Bureau of Land Management herd management area and were gathered.
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.”
— With wire reports