This summer, the House Appropriations Committee voted for the first time to authorize killing healthy wild horses and burros. It did so with the full support of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department bears the responsibility for managing wild horses on public lands.
We are appalled.
On one level, the vote to allow wild-horse killing is easy to understand. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scheme for managing protected wild horses and burros has never worked well, and has collapsed completely in the last 15 years.
Rounding up wild horses with helicopters and removing most of them for adoption is a strategy whose success depends on the whims of the horse adoption market, and works against wild horse reproductive biology. Adoptions have not kept up with removals, and removals have not kept up with natural growth of wild horse populations on the range.
Today, 46,000 formerly free-roaming wild horses are warehoused in holding facilities, costing taxpayers $60 million a year and counting. At the same time, according to the BLM, the number of horses and burros on the range has more than doubled since 2005-2008.
Something must be done to break out of this costly cycle of futility. Hence, the committee vote. Still, on another level, the committee’s action is bafflingly disingenuous and shortsighted. As a former congressman and governor from the West and a scientist and advocate who share more than a quarter century of engagement with the wild horse issue, we do not believe there is any chance that the public will allow killing of healthy wild horses on this scale. Historically, public outrage has routinely blocked far lesser abuses.
But if other issues conspire to divert public attention from horse-killing, the 20 percent annual growth rate shown by wild horse populations on public lands would refill BLM’s holding facilities to current levels in a mere three years. The killing strategy is no more sustainable than the roundup and adopt strategy.
The wild horse challenge cannot be solved unless wild horse reproduction is managed on the range. Less than a mile from where the House Appropriations Committee debated killing wild horses, experts from all over the world participated in the eighth International Conference in Wildlife Fertility Control. There, researchers from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, The Humane Society of the United States and the University of Toledo presented data from field trials showing that two doses of a contraceptive vaccine (known as PZP) delivered several years apart can block wild horse pregnancies for five years or longer. The vaccine costs a few hundred dollars for the first dose, but only $25 for the second.
Another research group from Colorado State University, the National Park Service and USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center showed remarkably similar data from wild horse field trials with a different contraceptive vaccine (known as GonaCon). These vaccines, and the data describing their safety and effectiveness, are both well known to the BLM, which has been funding such research for decades. Side effects are minimal, mostly consisting of short-term reactions at the injection site experienced by some horses.
Researchers can still improve these vaccines, and are eager to do that. But it is the job of the BLM to inject these vaccines into enough horses to slow down population growth. Working with the BLM at Cedar Mountains Herd Management Area in Utah, the Tufts/HSUS/Toledo research team showed that it can be done. Enough mares were treated with PZP at a 2012 BLM gather to reduce annual population growth to about 8.5 percent over the two years following — a third of the normal growth rate at that site.
Cedar Mountains is a tough place to work, covering 280 rugged square miles, nearly 60 percent of which is wilderness off-limits to vehicles. If BLM can do it there, they can do it nearly everywhere.
To reduce the number of gathers and the flow of animals into holding, improve the health of the range long-term and find its way out of its perpetual wild horse crisis, the BLM must develop and put into practice locally tailored long-term plans to manage wild horses and burros with fertility control.
Instead of funding horse killing, Congress should insist that management by fertility control gets done, and provide the BLM with the cash to do it.
Bill Richardson has served as a U.S. congressman (1982-1996), U. S. ambassador to the United Nations (1997-1998), secretary of Energy (1998-2000) and governor of New Mexico (2003-2011). With actor and conservationist Robert Redford, he started the Foundation to Preserve New Mexico Wildlife to protect wild horses and provide alternatives to horse slaughter.
Allen Rutberg is director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and a long-time wild horse contraception researcher.
Source: The Hill
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the Year of the Horse, a hopeful sign for equines in New Mexico, says Debbie Coburn. She and her husband, Terry Coburn, have run Four Corners Equine Rescue for the last 10 years at their ranch home just outside Aztec. It's a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and rehabilitating abandoned, abused and neglected horses. The organization also takes in and care for wild and feral horses. The couple currently have 62 horses at their sprawling facility in Flora Vista, south of the Old Aztec Highway.
Last year, the Coburns took in 30 horses -- "17 as wild as March hares," Debbie Coburn said. "It was like the year of the wild horse, we had so many come in or picked up," she said.
She said wild and feral horses can take twice as long as domesticated horses to be handleable and ready for adoption, doubling the expense and effort each of those horses require. Worse, according to Debbie Coburn, is that those horses face higher slaughter rates when they wind up at sale barns or at public auctions.
"What they call loose horses at a sale barn, public auction -- the chances of anyone taking them home is like .000000001 percent," she said. "No, they end up slaughtered. They sell them to kill buyers. The public auction is whoever bids the most."
The greatest obstacle, as Debbie Coburn sees it, is the reality that many horses are sent to slaughter each year, often out of convenience, indifference or cultural views that see the horses as possessions. With added political pressure and greater awareness, she is hopeful that change is afoot.
"The more Americans -- members of the public -- become aware of what's happening (with slaughter practices), the more the resistance to horse slaughter grows, and I think we're closer now than we ever have been to changing the culture of horse ownership," Debbie Coburn said. "I feel like we're making positive change. It's changed."
She points to a new law she championed to include a donation box on state personal tax forms to allow taxpayers to check off a donation to the horse shelter rescue fund. The state's Livestock Board would oversee the distribution of money to help horse shelters like the Coburns'. Debbie Coburn testified in support of the law at last year's legislative session in Santa Fe.
"It was organized chaos, so busy, so many committees I visited," she said. "That was my debut as a citizen lobbyist. But the governor (Susana Martinez) signed the bill. Things like this represent positive, incremental steps in the right direction."
The Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, an organization launched by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and activist actor Robert Redford, has jumped in to fight horse slaughter. Debbie Coburn said her organization received a $1,500 donation from the foundation in November.
Another sign of change is in an upcoming meeting Debbie Coburn has secured with Ray Baca, executive director of the New Mexico Livestock Board. Highest on her list of outcomes from the meeting is a greater understanding between the board and state rescues. The goal, she said, would be that board officials call rescues before allowing the horses to be taken to a sale barn and sold at public auction.
"We're supposed to meet with Baca to start forging a new relationship," she said. "We've been trying for a while. The first time I approached him, he said, 'No.' The fact that the (six) rescues (in the state) have bonded together, he's been more inclined to listen. It's the old guard, but the hope for change is there. Bit by bit."
Baca's board is still stinging after an investigative article in the Albuquerque Journal discovered that Baca signed a purchase order to place four abused horses with Southwest Livestock Auction, a feedlot in Los Lunas, in September. The feedlot's owner, Dennis Chavez, pleaded guilty in November to animal cruelty after four severely emaciated and dying horses were documented on his property. As part of a settlement agreement in the case, Debbie Coburn and two other state rescues received $5,000 last month.
"These rescues have saved a lot of horses," said Gary Mora, an area supervisor with the state's Livestock Board. "We have delivered horses (to Four Corners Equine Rescue). (Coburn) has picked up horses. She will attempt to help, but that is not always possible."
Mora, who has been with the board for 17 years, believes the board is doing all it can to place horses, despite a small budget, limited staff and no place of its own to hold horses indefinitely.
"We are faced with a problem with unwanted, abandoned horses. The economy didn't help," Mora said. "We can't just give these horses away. We have to follow the estray process, because they're not the property of the state. We hold onto them for as long as possible, and, most of the time, we're successful to adopt them out to private individuals or to rescues, but down the road we're going to run out of options. We don't have a facility to hold horses. After that, according to statute, we're required to sell them at public auction."
All of New Mexico's horse rescue groups, including Four Corners Equine Rescue, have banded together to form the New Mexico Equine Rescue Alliance, whose mission is to take all horses from the state's Livestock Board.
"This needs to stop," Debbie Coburn said. "We're willing to help. I'm not trying to pull their (agencies like the Livestock Board) wisdom teeth without sedation. We're trying to get along and make this a safer process for the horses. That's the point, but I am encouraged."
Source: The Daily Times by James Fenton
The U.S. Department of Agriculture should be able to dispatch inspectors to
meat processing facilities in Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico that would allow them to begin to slaughter horses for meat for the first time since Congress ended a four-year ban on the practice in 2011, the Justice Department argued in a court filing Thursday.
U.S. government lawyers asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit to lift a temporary injunction it imposed Monday at the request of animal welfare activists who contend that horse slaughtering poses potential environmental and health risks that the federal government has not adequately considered.
The litigation, pursued by the Humane Society of the United States as well as a Colorado group, Fort Range Equine Rescue, contends that the horses are more likely to have dangerous drug contamination than other types of animals and that the contamination could be released in both meat and groundwater.
A U.S. District Court judge ruled against the opponents last week, clearing the way for the facilities to begin slaughtering horses. But the 10th Circuit temporarily blocked the slaughter again Monday in order to consider whether it should or should not be allowed to go forward as the activists appeal.
"Front Range paints a gory picture of 'horse blood in their faucets' and a 'meat supply [that] has been contaminated by adulterated horse flesh'...but fails to present any scientific evidence of contamination in local waters or in other meat products or any reasonable expectation that such contamination will occur," the brief filed by DOJ's environmental lawyers says.
"FSIS [the Food Safety and Inspection Service] has set forth detailed regulations and directives for the inspection, testing, handling and labeling of livestock, including equines. At bottom, Front Range's argument is that slaughtered horses might be contaminated, that this contamination might reach nearby waters, and that this contamination might enter those unidentified lakes and streams at which Front Range's members might be recreating. These attenuated, speculative allegations of harm are insufficient to establish irreparable injury," the Justice Department lawyers argue in their filing (Click Here to view doc).
The companies affected by the injunction filed their own brief Thursday (Click Here to view doc). They called the litigation a "manufactured charade" and asking the appeals court to lift the temporary ban which they said could drive them into "insolvency" if continued.
"For this Court to find that appellant’s face a threat of irreparable harm, the court must turn a blind eye to the science that contradicts their assertion that all horses going to processing represent a toxic dangerous source pollution to the environment. Frankly, to find such an assertion to be credible, the court would have to ignore the very manure that issues from these animals which would undoubtedly have to contain the same toxic substances with absolutely no regulation as it enters the natural environment," the companies' lawyer A. Blair Dunn wrote.
Source: Politico, by Josh Gerstein
Four months into litigation aimed at preventing horses from being legally slaughtered in the United States, animal law attorney Bruce A. Wagman is already citing Front Range Equine Rescue v. Vilsack as one of the “illustrative representations” of his experience.
Others might just call it a win. M. Christina Armijo, chief U.S. District Court judge for New Mexico, has already granted Wagman’s clients a temporary restraining order in the case. He wants a permanent injunction against USDA inspecting any horse-slaughter facilities in the U.S.
Wagman and Rocky N. Unruh, an expert in complex trials, are San Francisco attorneys from the national Schiff Hardin law firm, which has 400 attorneys based out of Chicago. Among the 15 plaintiffs Wagman and Unruh represent is one definitely large enough to pay their fees, the Humane Society of the United States.
With prestigious offices on L Street in Washington, D.C., and annual revenues that were approaching $200 million when last reported two years ago, HSUS is a nonprofit that can easily keep Wagman and Unruh in its legal stable.
In addition to more than two decades of experience litigating animal law cases, Wagman literally wrote the book on the subject. His “Animal Law: Cases and Materials” is in its fourth edition as a law school textbook.
Wagman’s job this time is to stop three small businesses located in rural areas of Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico that saw an opportunity two years ago when the federal government’s ban on horse slaughter was lifted. All three went through an extensive process in requesting a so-called “grant of inspection” from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Plaintiffs filed to block that from happening just as USDA decided to provide inspection services to the three businesses, Responsible Transportation in Iowa, Rains Natural Meats in Missouri, and Valley Meats in New Mexico. All three planned to pack horsemeat for export.
That’s when Wagman won the temporary restraining order. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys for the three named defendants in the case — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen and FSIS Administrator Al Almanza — then suggested speeding up the case by skipping all preliminary arguments.
Wagman and Unruh agreed. For the past six weeks, there’s been a flurry of motions and arguments going back and forth. And while there has been no scheduled or target date announced for Armijo’s ruling on the merits of the case, Wagman seems to be winning the preliminary decisions.
For example, Armijo ruled against the government when USDA sought to have the Declaration of Dr. Daniel L. Engeljohn entered as a supplement to the administrative record. Engeljohn is arguably USDA’s top expert on horse slaughter and was the official directly in charge of the administrative process.
Also, the magistrate judge responsible for processing requests for injunction bonds denied the request of Rains Natural Meats. Valley Meats and Responsible Transportation, which were both included in the original injunction, did require bonds, but Rains was not because it came later.
However, since USDA was enjoined by additional court action from providing inspection services to Rains, that business faces similar jeopardy.
In addition to the plaintiffs represented by the Schiff Hardin attorneys, the State of New Mexico has intervened on their side of the case. Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff is representing New Mexico.
DOJ attorneys Alison D. Garner, Andrew A. Smith and Robert G. Dreher are representing USDA. Dreher is the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. for environment and natural resources.
The three business and numerous others have intervened on the government side. The most active attorney among several for those interests is A. Blair Dunn of Albuquerque.
Meanwhile, the law the Oklahoma Legislature passed last May to permit horse slaughter in that state takes effect on Friday, Nov. 1. Under the new law, any horse-slaughter facility would require approval from USDA, and officials say there are no applications in the works at this time.
Source: Food Safety News by Dan Flynn
Navajo Nation Suspends Horse Round-ups And Forfeits Support For Horse Slaughtering And Horse Slaughtering Facilities
FARMINGTON, N.M. – Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson have reached an agreement in principle in which the Navajo Nation would suspend horse round ups making way to halting the sale of Navajo horses to horse processing plants. The two leaders reached the agreement in a meeting over the weekend.
“We have met with Gov. Richardson and we have come to an agreement to find long term solutions to manage our feral horse issue on the Navajo Nation. We will suspend horse round ups and forfeit support for horse slaughtering and horse slaughtering facilities. We have maintained an all of the above approach to managing our horse population and our land. This approach to manage our resources has included the use of horse round ups and other humane methods with our goal being strengthening our balance between livestock and the land. I am thankful for the input we have received from various groups from within the
Navajo Nation and throughout the United States. We are now using that input in formulating innovative initiatives to address this issue. I have always advocated for strong long-term solutions and partnerships. I believe the MOU will serve as a gateway for more resources to assist our local communities,” President Shelly said.
Gov. Richardson represents the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, which he founded with actor, director and
conservationist Robert Redford. The foundation is working to stop the slaughter of horses, including actively fighting efforts to reopen horse slaughterhouses in the United States. The foundation is committed to finding humane alternatives to horse slaughter to deal with the nation’s wild horse population and is working with advocacy groups such as Return to Freedom headed by world-renowned horse advocate Neda DeMayo.
“I commend President Shelly for calling for an immediate end to horse roundups and for making it clear that moving
forward the Navajo Nation will not support horse slaughter or the return of horse slaughter facilities,” Governor Richardson said. “This is exactly the outcome horse advocates, such as myself, had hoped for.”
The two leaders agreed to develop a Memorandum of Understanding that would suspend horse round ups on the Navajo Nation while the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife and other horse advocacy groups, including Animal Protection of New Mexico, work with the Navajo Nation to develop and implement alternative policies to manage feral horse populations. Possible solutions that will be explored include equine birth control, adoption, land management and public education.
“I am interested in long-term solutions humane to manage our horse populations. Our land is precious to the Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us. I am thankful we can partner with agencies that have resources to help us find real long-term solutions,” President Shelly said.
President Shelly added that the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources and the Navajo Department of Agriculture will cooperate with Gov. Richardson and the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife.
“I look forward to getting to work partnering with President Shelly and the Navajo Nation to help find and develop policies that are not only humane, but offer long-term solutions to managing the Navajo Nation’s horse population,” Governor Richardson added. “I hope that federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture, as well as horse advocacy groups will also support our efforts with funding.
The MOU is expected to be signed within two weeks.
Under pressure by animal welfare groups and many of his own people, the president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly, has reversed his stance on horse slaughtering, saying he will no longer support it and will order the temporary suspension of the roundups of feral horses on the reservation.
The agreement, brokered by Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, is scheduled to be announced on Tuesday. One of its key provisions is to pressure the federal government to do more to help the Navajos handle the tens of thousands of horses that roam freely on their land. Mr. Shelly has estimated that feral horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range.
“I am interested in long-term humane solutions to manage our horse populations,” Mr. Shelly said. “Our land is precious to the
Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us.”
Mr. Shelly’s recalibrated position is sure to strengthen the arguments against horse slaughter in the nation, just as a legal fight to block the opening of horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Missouri reaches its final stages. It could also smooth relations between his administration and tribal elders in some of the Navajo Nation’s largest chapters, who have stood steadfastly against the roundups even as Mr. Shelly embraced them in August as the best available option, given the tribe’s limited resources, to keep its feral horse population under control.
At the time, his stance put the country’s largest federally recognized tribe in a collision course with Mr. Richardson and the
actor Robert Redford, who had justified joining a lawsuit against horse slaughtering filed by animal-rights groups by saying they were “standing with Native American leaders.”
In a unanimous vote last month, the Navajo Nation chapter in Shiprock, N.M., banned horse roundups in its territory. The
chapter’s president, Duane Yazzie, said members were concerned about the abandoned colts and the sale of the horses to meat plants in Mexico, where slaughter is legal. On Saturday, several of the chapter’s members protested as Mr. Shelly took part in a parade at the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock.
Mr. Shelly and Mr. Richardson met in Farmington, N.M., just outside Navajo lands, shortly after the parade to complete the agreement. It charges several animal welfare groups — including Animal Protection of New Mexico and the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, founded by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Redford — with developing alternative policies. One option is rounding up the horses and putting them up for adoption; another is dispensing contraceptives.
“This is a huge event,” Mr. Richardson said. “One of the most important and largest tribes in the country is now on the record against horse slaughtering, and that should be a major factor both in Congress and in the courts.”
All along, Mr. Shelly had spoken about the “delicate balance,” as he put it, between the horses’ significance to the Navajos and the cost of repairing the damage caused by feral horses on the reservation, which covers roughly 27,500 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The Navajos estimate there are 75,000 feral horses roaming the reservation, an estimate based on aerial observations, a method they concede is unreliable. One of the points of the agreement is to find a way to take an accurate count.
During a meeting in Washington last month, Mr. Shelly told several animal welfare groups that the federal government needed to “live up to its responsibilities,” according to his spokesman, Erny Zah, and help the Navajos manage the feral horses. It was not until the agreement with Mr. Richardson, however, that he made his new stance on horse slaughtering official.
The Humane Society of the United States and other groups sued the United States Department of Agriculture in July to keep horse slaughter plants from opening in New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri, arguing that the agency had failed to carry out all of the environmental checks, and asked the courts to block its inspectors from working there. The owners of the plant in Iowa have since scrapped their plans to slaughter horses and turned their focus to cattle.
In August, Judge M. Christina Armijo of United States District Court in Albuquerque halted the inspections until she makes her final ruling on the case, which is expected by the end of the month.
Source: New York Times by Fernanda Santos
>>> Click Here for Press Release from Navajo Nation
Navajo Nation rounds up horses on drought-stricken reservation; those unclaimed will be sold to Mexico to be slaughtered.
Navajo Nation rangers have rounded up numerous horses on the reservation under an operation conducted as part of the tribe’s response to the continuing drought.
A natural resources law enforcement official says least 248 horses were seized through Thursday and that additional horses were seized in operations late last week. The operations were conducted in the Iyanbito, Canyon de Chelly, Pinedale, Chinle, Black Mesa, Ganado and Blue Water Lake areas, the Gallup Independent reported.
The horses seized are said to be either feral or belong to residents who lack grazing permits or have more horses than their permits allow. Grazing official Wilbur Murphy said horses unclaimed by residents will be sold to a buyer either for resale off the reservation or for transport to Mexico for slaughter for meat.
The Navajo Nation has voiced support for a plan by a Roswell company, Valley Meat Co., to begin slaughtering horses for meat. A spokesman for Navajo President Ben Shelly has said the reservation can no longer support the estimated 75,000 feral horses that are drinking wells dry and causing ecological damage to the drought-stricken range.
The Navajo Nation Council has approved $3 million in emergency funds to combat extreme drought conditions on the reservation and nearly $1.4 million in additional funds for feral horse roundups.
Leonard Butler, a tribal Natural Resources law enforcement official, said tribal chapters that approved resolutions to conduct the horse roundups in their communities will be compensated with about $20 per head.
“That’s the incentive for the chapter to pass resolution to participate in the roundup,” Butler said.
Ranger Lorenzo Lapahie said horses that are branded will be kept for three days to give owners time to reclaim the animals by showing a grazing permit and proof of ownership.
Valley Meat’s plan has sparked a national debate about whether horses are livestock or companion animals and how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country. Horses were slaughtered domestically for decades until Congress cut funding for inspections for horse plants in 2006. That funding was restored in late
Source: The Associated Press
Source: The Associated Press by Susan Montya Bryan
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A federal magistrate on Thursday ordered animal rights groups that won a temporary ban on domestic horse slaughter to post a bond of nearly $500,000 as they continue their legal fight. U.S. Magistrate Robert Scott settled on the amount after hearing from attorneys who represent two companies that had planned to begin operations this week at slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Iowa.
The attorneys argued that the delay could be "devastating," costing their clients more than $1.5 million in lost revenues in just one month. The case could drag on for months and the losses could reach tens of millions of dollars, they said.
"The bond requires the plaintiffs to put their money where their mouth is. There are real-life consequences to these actions and we're appreciative of the judge recognizing that," said lawyer Pat Rogers, who represents Responsible Transportation, a company formed by three young men who have collected nearly $3 million from family, friends and other investors to open a plant in the town of Sigourney, Iowa.
The case has sparked an emotional debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country as drought conditions and the lack of feed in many states continue to exacerbate
the problem. The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Horses For Life Foundation, Return to Freedom, The Marin Humane Society and others won a temporary restraining order last week that blocked Responsible Transportation and Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., from opening their plants.
The bond covers the companies' costs and lost profits for the next 30 days should the animal rights groups lose the case. Within that time, another hearing is planned in federal court to determine the fate of the temporary ban. Attorneys for the animal rights groups argued Thursday that the losses estimated by the companies were highly speculative and the result of creative
The animal rights groups argue that the agency failed to do the proper environmental studies before issuing the permits. Robert Redford, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King are among those who oppose a return to domestic horse slaughter, citing the horse's iconic role as a companion animal in the West.
But some ranchers' groups and the National Congress of American Indians, an organization that represents tribes across the country, argue that overgrazing by feral horses has caused serious environmental and ecological damage.
Supporters also say it is better to slaughter the horses in regulated and humane domestic facilities than to let them starve or be shipped to other countries for slaughter. They point to a 2011 report from the federal Government Accountability Office that shows cases of horse abuse and abandonment on a steady rise since Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting
funding for USDA inspection programs in 2006.
Source: The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge temporarily halted plans by companies in New Mexico and Iowa to start slaughtering horses next week.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo issued a restraining order in a lawsuit brought by The Humane Society of the United States and other groups in a case that has sparked an emotional national debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country. The move stops what would have been the resumption of horse slaughter for the first time in seven years in the U.S.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Bruce Wagman, said his clients were overjoyed with the ruling and had been "extremely distressed that horse slaughter was going to start up again in America." The groups contend the Department of Agriculture failed to do the proper environmental studies before issuing permits that allowed companies in Iowa and New Mexico to open horse slaughterhouses.
The companies had said they wanted to open as soon as Monday. The horse meat would be exported for human consumption and for use as zoo and other animal food.
Armijo also scheduled a hearing Monday's to determine how much money plaintiffs in the case would have to put up in advance to cover economic losses to the companies if they lose the lawsuit.
Blair Dunn, who represents Valley Meat Co., said he will ask for $10 million to be set aside. Pat Rogers, an attorney for Responsible Transportation, said his clients borrowed $1.5 million to begin the operation, with another $1.4 million from
investors. "It's a small company in a small town. That's going to have significant economic impact," Rogers said.
Earlier in the day, he argued his clients started the company to fill a need. Currently, he said, old and unwanted horses have to be shipped thousands of miles in sometimes inhumane conditions to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.
"The truth is, your honor, there is no old horses home," Rogers told the judge. "There is no Medicare for horses."
Wagman, however, argued the slaughterhouses should be forced to undergo public review under provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act. He told the court no environmental impact study has ever been done to examine the effects of horse slaughter. Horses are given more than 100 drugs not approved for other feed animals, he said.
"The government is about to embark on a brand-new multi-state program," he said. "We just don't know about the dangers that lie ahead."
The move has divided horse rescue and animal welfare groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes about what is the most
humane way to deal with the country's horse overpopulation.
While some tribes are opposed to horse slaughter, citing the animals' sacred place in their culture, the Navajo and Yakama nations, are among those who are pushing to let the companies open. They say the exploding horse populations on their reservations are trampling and overgrazing rangelands, decimating forage resources for cattle and causing
widespread environmental damage.
The Navajo Nation, the nation's largest Indian reservation, estimates there are 75,000 horses on its land, many of which are dehydrated and starving after years of drought.
"The only actual evidence of environmental impact is ours," said Yakama Nation attorney John Boyd, who filed a statement from the tribe's biologist about the damage from more than 12,000 wild horses on the reservation. "And it's a catastrophe that
can be largely or significantly ameliorated" by making it easier for the tribe to round up the animals to slaughter.
On the other side, actor Robert Redford, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Attorney General Gary King are among those who strongly oppose a return to domestic horse slaughter, citing the horse's iconic role as a companion animal in the West.
SANTA FE — The debate over a horse meat processing plant keeps getting more intense.
One day after New Mexico Watchdog first reported that the Navajo Nation supports a controversial horse meat processing plant in Roswell, two state representatives who are members of the tribe agreed, saying the Valley Meat Co. should be able to open its doors as the first horse slaughterhouse approved in the U.S. in seven years.
And one of them criticized Gov. Susana Martinez for opposing the facility and accused former Gov. Bill Richardson of “grandstanding.”
“These people want to tell us how to manage our land and our lives, but are unwilling to provide financial backing to fund their agendas,” Jeff said. “They would rather spend their money on lawsuits and chase media.” The statement accused Richardson and others of “political grandstanding.”
Last week, Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswel, who often speaks from the House floor of her love for horses, came out in support Valley Meat Co., telling the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership, that irresponsible owners are abandoning horses on ranches, reservations and public lands, where they eat vegetation, drink up water in drought-ridden areas and sometimes starve to death.
“In my area, we have so many wild horses that are breaking down fences, you can’t believe it,” Clahchischilliage said.
The Navajo Nation estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 feral horses are roaming throughout the reservation’s 27,425 square miles. “A lot these horses have no owners, they’re not branded,” Clahchischilliage said.
Emotions are running high. Last weekend, the owners of the Valley Meat Co. reported a fire on the company’s property and Chaves County officials say they suspect arson.
U.S. District Court judge will hear arguments Friday, August 2, 2013, from opponents of the horse slaughter plant who have filed a motion to keep the plant from opening.
Read Jeff’s entire statement by clicking here.