California

Sale, possible slaughter of California horses delayed while they get their day in court

The U.S. Forest Service has agreed to postpone the sale without limitation of hundreds of older wild horses — rounded up in Northern California earlier this fall — until after a hearing late next month.

A sale without limitation would mean the horses could be purchased by foreign slaughterhouses to be turned into food. The order putting the sale on hold was filed Dec. 6.

Before that, un-adopted mustangs 10 and older collected in a “horse gather” in Modoc National Forest earlier this fall would have gone for sale on Jan. 15. Now, that sale will not begin until at least Feb. 18.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, in partnership with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, challenged that sale in federal court earlier this year.

“The Forest Service has shown a complete lack of regard for California law, the intent of Congress and the will of the public by proposing to sell wild horses for slaughter. We’re taking every possible stop to ensure that the Forest Service cannot proceed with this terrible and illegal plan,” Grace Kuhn, spokeswoman for the American Wild Horse Campaign, said in a statement.

Forest Service spokesman Ken Sandusky declined to comment on the injunction, but said his agency would release a statement on Dec. 18.

Before the “horse gather” removed nearly 1,000 horses from the herd, the Devil’s Garden herd had almost 4,000 horses, with a range of 250,000 acres.

“It sounds like a lot of acres for 4,000 horses, but there’s not a lot of vegetation and not a lot of water,” said Modoc National Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams in a statement announcing the horse gather this fall.

McAdams said that the land in question could support only 206 to 402 horses.

“There is no scientific basis for the claim that 500 square-mile habitat can only support 400 wild horses. It’s simply false,” Kuhn said in response to that statement. “The only reason the USFS is claiming that is because they’re forcing federally-protected wild horses to compete with 8,000 privately-owned cattle and sheep. They are treating our public lands like a private feedlot for subsided ranchers.”

Regardless of the outcome of the Jan. 24 hearing in U.S. District Court, selling wild horses to slaughter buyers could carry criminal consequences.

In 1998, California voters approved Proposition 6, which makes it a felony for any person to sell a horse with the intent of it being slaughtered for human consumption. In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Attorney General Xavier Becerra vowed that the law would be enforced.

Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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