Winnemucca, NV (August 8, 2013) — Late today, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) issued a two-sentence press release indicating that it was postponing the controversial roundup of hundreds of wild horses from the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest and Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Reservation in northern Nevada. The USFS, a division of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), had intended to capture the horses via helicopter roundup on public and reservation lands, and then turn them over to the Paiute Shoshone Tribe, which intended to sell them at a slaughter auction on August 17.

The decision to postpone the action, which was proceeding in the absence of environmental and legal analysis and without public notice or input, came after a coalition of wild horse and environmental groups sent a letter to the USFS warning that the plan violated federal law. Earlier today, attorneys for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) — a national coalition — Return to Freedom, The Cloud Foundation, and the Western Watersheds Project sent a letter to the USFS outlining its legal obligations to ensure that federally-protected wild horses are not captured and sent to slaughter. The letter also addressed the USFS’ obligation, under the First Amendment, to provide the public with the opportunity to observe this taxpayer-funded, federal operation.

“We’re pleased that the Forest Service has postponed this ill-conceived plan to use our tax dollars to round up wild horses and send them to slaughter,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom, AWHPC’s founding organization. “We knew that this dirty deal would not withstand the light of day. Now we would like the Forest Service to live up to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s position that a better alternative to slaughter must be found for America’s horses.”

The Forest Service plans to pay to round up the horses and pay to transport them to the Fallon Livestock Exchange. According to the coalition of wild horse and environmental groups, any unbranded horses that are rounded up could be federally protected mustangs that wandered off Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Little Owyhee Herd Management Area which are lands designated as wild horse habitat areas. In fact, the BLM’s massive 450,000-acre Little Owyhee Herd Management Area is approximately 10 miles away from USFS lands and within proximity to the reservation; a BLM map for the 2012 Owyhee Complex wild horse roundup indicates that wild horses have been found on lands adjacent to USFS lands and near to the reservation. Wild horses are known to naturally travel great distances on a daily basis.

Ginger Kathrens, Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation and noted wild horse behaviorist, stated, “I have documented wild horses walking 10 miles down a mountain and 10 miles back up in the course of a day. This is the equivalent of traveling from the Little Owyhee Herd Management Area (HMA) into the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest and back to the HMA. Without visible brands, there is no way to identify federally protected mustangs from tribal horses.” Kathrens has observed wild horse behaviors for nearly two decades.

On May 30, 2013, the USFS and the tribes reportedly signed the agreement to execute this roundup. The decision to remove the horses was signed 15 days later. The USFS reportedly delegated the responsibility to inform the public about this federal operation to the tribe.

The USFS had planned to use helicopters beginning today, August 9, to roundup as many as 700 wild horses from federal and tribal lands in northern Nevada and turn them over to the tribes to sell for slaughter. This USFS plan was in direct contradiction to the stated opposition by the Obama Administration and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to the practice of horse slaughter.

The USFS is required to protect wild horses and burros under the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity and habitat of America’s wild horses through sanctuary, education and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. Return to Freedom provides a safe haven to over 300 wild horses and burros at its sanctuary in Santa Barbara, California and in Nevada where the group is planning to create a larger wild horse preserve.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, founded in 2004 by Return to Freedom, is a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come.

The Cloud Foundation, a 501c(3) charity named for the wild stallion, Cloud, is dedicated to the preservation of wild horses and burros on public lands with special emphasis on isolated, genetically unique herds like Cloud’s in the Pryor Mountains of Montana.

Western Watersheds Project is a non-profit conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and litigation. The group works to influence and improve public lands management in 8 western states with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250,000,000 acres of western public lands.

For more information, please use the following resources:

Forest Service agreement with Ft. McDermitt Reservation

Fallon Livestock Exchange “Special Sale” notice

Visack Says Alternative to Horse Slaughter Needed