August 21, 2013
RENO, Nevada — A federal judge has cleared the way for a Nevada tribe to sell 149 mustangs over the objection of critics who claim the unbranded animals are federally protected wild horses that should not be auctioned off for possible slaughter.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du lifted an emergency restraining order she put in place last week temporarily blocking the sale of any adult horses without brands among more than 400 recently gathered near the Nevada-Oregon line.
Du heard conflicting testimony in Reno Wednesday about whether the mustangs exhibited wild behavior before she ruled the U.S. Forest Service acted appropriately in determining the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe is the animals’ rightful owner and can’t be stopped from selling them.
The following article came out several days ago and tells the story behind the story. While the write blames the “Obama Administration ” no administration has ever stood up to the pro-slaughter lobby. However, I waited to repost it because the future of these 149 horses was so uncertain. Now we know.
Esquire.com, Andrew Cohen
It’s hard to believe or describe what just happened to hundreds of horses who were, until last week, roaming free in northern Nevada. Unwanted by members of a Native American tribe living near them, quietly delivered up by federal agents who wanted to make room for grazing livestock, unprotected by Obama Administration which says it is opposed to slaughter even as it enables it, the horses, more than 460 of them, were rounded up and shipped late last week to a public auction known for attracting “kill buyers” looking to fill slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico.
I’m told that approximately 149 horses — unbranded and thus likely to be wild horses protected by federal law — were spared from slaughter on Saturday thanks to wild horse advocates, public interest lawyers, and a federal judge who late Friday night issued a restraining order because of the “serious questions” she had about the way the roundup was conceived and executed. But approximately 316 other horses, branded and thus considered private property, found on federal or tribal lands or otherwise brought to auction by their legitimate owners, were sold at a public sale Saturday in Fallon, Nevada.
As Congress contemplates two measures that would again ban such slaughter around the nation, and as officials in New Mexico and Iowa grapple with the controversial return of slaughterhouses to their jurisdictions, many of the horses sold Saturday, perhaps as many as 200 according to witnesses at the sale, will be killed for meat — or already have been. From a wild horse advocate, here’s one account of what happened Saturday at the Fallon sale:
“Babies of weaning age — maybe three months old — were pulled from their mothers and immediately herded into the auction ring, one by one, crying and looking for their mothers as they were sold to the highest bidder. Then their mothers followed, pushed into the ring in groups of 5-6 horses, huddled together, terrified and auctioned in lots and purchased by a kill buyer. It was brutal.”
The story of what happened to these horses is part of a broader story of the Obama Administration’s deliberate indifference to the nation’s wild herds and to the federal laws and policies designed both to protect and manage them. It is also a story that highlights the uneasy contradictions in the administration’s policy toward horse slaughter. Administration officials — like Agricultural Department Secretary Tom Vilsack, for example — havegone on the record saying they are opposed to slaughter. But it was the USDA’s Forest Service, in ways still not fully explained to the American people, that planned to facilitate the roundup of these horses (both the branded and unbranded ones) on behalf of the Paiute-Shoshone tribe — a roundup destined (as it did) to lead to slaughter for many of the horses.
There is no law in America today that says a person can’t sell his horse to slaughter. Members of the tribe had a right to collect and sell their own horses. But many serious questions remain about what happened last week, most notably these two: How did it come to pass that hundreds of horses were rounded up and shipped off for sale in the days immediately following a public announcement by the Forest Service that it was postponing that very roundup? And why, a week later, has the Forest Service still failed or refused to explain precisely what happened to cause these horses to be rounded up before officials satisfied their reporting requirements under federal law?
Had the advocates not intervened, and the judge not ruled, wild horses almost certainly would have been slaughtered in violation of federal law and policy. Moreover, if this episode represents a policy shift for the administration — if it is now the policy of the United States to actively help private parties sell their horses to slaughter — the American people surely deserve to have a fuller opportunity to debate the wisdom of that policy. On Friday, as the story drew attention in court and in the field, and as the emergency injunction filed by horse advocates was being evaluated by a federal judge, two of the three federal spokespeople responsible for keeping us all abreast of wild horse developments were gone for the weekend. A third told me via email that “it is Forest Service policy to defer to DOJ for comment on matters under litigation.”
To understand the story you need to understand the geography. Most members of the Paiute and Shoshone Tribe live on the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, along the Quinn River, a swath of land that encompasses parts of both northern Nevada and southern Oregon. That sweeping area of the nation also is home to the Little Owyee Herd Management Area for wild horses in eastern Humboldt and western Elko counties in Nevada, as well as the Santa Rosa District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the largest national forest in the nation. There aren’t nearly enough fences to handle the vast acreage, and so horses, being horses, wander freely in and out of the Little Owyee onto surrounding land, including the National Forest, where water is more plentiful. Wild horses, and branded horses, still need to drink.
Evidently these horses wandered too freely to suit the tastes of tribal leaders. In late May, the tribe entered into a “Participating Agreement” with the Forest Service “to remove unauthorized horses from the National Forest system lands to enhance the habitat and range condition on Forest Service System lands, to reduce nuisances and hazards from horses to Fort McDermitt residents and to enhance habitat range conditions” on tribal lands. Wild horse advocates say they were not given notice of this deal — and thus an opportunity to stop it — because it was published in a Native American publication. Wild horse advocates also claim that Forest Service officials impermissibly delegated the vital “public notice” function to the tribe. The tribe has not responded to my requests for comment.
There were plenty of provisions in the agreement that benefited the tribe. The Forest Service specifically promised to provide a third-party contractor who would gather the horses onto “staging grounds” on the reservation and then transport them to the Fallon Livestock Exchange, an auction house specializing in live animal sales. There, tribal members who chose to do so could sell their “property” to the highest bidder. The object of the deal, according to court papers filed late last week, was clear: to “safely gather horses, determine ownership, and either transport to market or return to owners according to Fort McDermitt tribal law & code.”
But there were virtually no provisions in the deal that ensured that the nation’s wild horses, which have special protection by virtue of the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, would not be captured. Even though Forest Service officials knew or should have known that wild horses might have roamed from Little Owyee to the National Forest and then perhaps onto tribal land, and even though the roundup was in any event designed to take horses from federal land, there was nothing in the deal that set up a procedure for how tribal members or federal officials would identify and separate the wild horses they had rounded up.
Two weeks later, in mid-June, the Forest Service announced that it would impound “all unauthorized livestock found upon the National Forest Service Lands or other lands” contemplated by the agreement. This meant that the feds were improperly planning to round up (and allow the tribe perhaps to sell to slaughter) some horses that were likely to be federally-protected wild horses. In early August, wild horse advocates challenged the planned roundup on the grounds that it violated the 1971 Wild Horse Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal officials to study the environmental impact of horse removals before gathering up herds.
How the Deal Changed
I learned about the plight of these horses at this point. And so I asked officials at the Bureau of Land Management, the Interior Department and the Forest Service to answer some basic questions about how, for example, the roundup could proceed in the absence of the required environmental assessment. Instead of a substantive response, the Forest Service first threatened to preclude public observation of the roundup. And then, on August 9th, the feds announced they were postponing “the removal” of the horses “in order to allow for better coordination of the process.” The August 9th announcement was hailed by the horse advocates as a encouraging sign that the feds were going to take some time to think through the legal and practical ramifications of the Fort McDermitt roundup.
What no one then knew, however, was that the horses were doomed to be rounded up anyway. The very next day, on Saturday August 10, without any public notice or explanation by federal officials or tribal members, 277 horses were rounded up from these federal and tribal lands. By August 13, the feds now say, 467 horses — branded and unbranded — had been rounded up. All of these horses were then shipped to Fallon for sale. The roundup that had been officially postponed, and never rescheduled, was nonetheless a smashing success for the tribe and auctioneers.
Last Friday, citing these facts and more in a request for an emergency injunction, horse advocates sued to stop all unbranded horses- and thus likely wild horses — from being sold at Fallon. The harm to federally protected horses might be irreparable, the horse advocates told U.S. District Judge Miranda Du, and the Forest Service still had not followed proper regulatory procedures under federal law. On Friday night, just hours before the sale was to begin, the judge granted the request. “Plaintiffs have shown serious questions,” Judge Du wrote, “that wild horses were improperly rounded up.” A hearing on the injunction will take place Wednesday.
On Saturday, the sale took place. Suzanne Roy, campaign director of the Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, told me this weekend that approximately 149 unbranded horses were pulled from the auction. “The auction pulled about 70 unbranded horses,” she said, “and then we inspected every pen and got 70+ more pulled.” Those horses may not be slaughtered. But it is not clear that they will be sent back to their home in the Little Owyee Herd Management Area. They are most likely instead to be shipped to holding facilities — along with tens of thousands of other wild horses kicked off the range by the Obama Administration.
If the Forest Service has publicly reacted to Judge Du’s Friday night order, I am not aware of it. Nor has the Bureau of Land Management, which has the most direct authority over the nation’s herds, nor has the Interior Department, the Secretary of which has remained silent and invisible on this divisive topic, nor has the Justice Department, the lawyers of which will have to defend and justify the Forest Service’s conduct in this case. My attempts to reach tribal leaders or a tribal spokesman, before the August 9th postponement notice, were unsuccessful. No one this past weekend was saying anything about anything.
Lingering Questions …CONTINUED… Read the rest of the article at Esquire.com