A coalition of groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to stop the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from eliminating thousands of acres of protected territory for horses -- the largest area like it in California. The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is aimed at preventing USFW from rounding up close to 80 percent of the wild horses in northeast California near the border of Oregon, many of which would likely be slaughtered.
In August 2013, USFS authorized a decision that will eliminate more than 25,000 acres of wild horse territory that has been protected since 1971 under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act passed by Congress. The area in question is called Devil's Garden Wild Horse Territory in northeast California's Modoc National Forest -- where wild horses have lived for over 150 years.
According to the coalition, USFS failed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for their 2013 decision. The current horse population is about 1,100, and USFS's plan would remove about 900, the lawsuit alleges. They also say that if the protections are stripped, horses will be rounded up, separated from their families and likely sold for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.
Horse advocates say that the plan is supported by livestock ranchers who want to use the land to graze cattle. Says the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign:
The Devils Garden Plateau WHT is currently used by 10 different private ranchers who are permitted to graze the annual equivalent of 2,240 cow/calf pairs; actual use averaged 1,546 cow/calf pairs during 2006-2011. In 2012, the USFS increased private livestock grazing bringing the annual equivalent of livestock on the WHT up to 1,605 cow/calf pairs.
"Wildlife depend upon federal agencies for protection; instead the Forest Service is protecting the private interests of ranchers," Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in a press release. "Wild horses have a historical right to territories designated and protected by acts of Congress."
The coalition includes the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, the Return to Freedom horse sanctuary and the advocate Carla Bowers.
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