(Reno, NV) Legal action has been filed against Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) today in federal district court. The suit makes two claims: Sheldon NWR fails to follow policy to protect horses removed from the range from entering the slaughter pipeline, and Sheldon violates the First Amendment by failing to provide the public meaningful access to horses.
Sheldon has stated in documents governing removals, as well as to the public, that they provide protections for the horses from being sent to slaughter and follow up on placements facilitated by their carefully chosen adoption agents. Only after a member of the public, co-Plaintiff Bonnie Kohleriter, gathered information that Sheldon horses were still being sent to kill buyers did Sheldon investigate. Even after an investigation, done by Brian Day manager of Sheldon and John Kasbohm the program Director, showed considerable risk to Sheldon horses, the contract was renewed with this same offending adoption agent, J&S Associates. Sheldon NWR plans to send as many as 252 horses, at a cost of more than a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars, back to J&S Associates of Mississippi, in early October.
Horses residing in Sheldon are primarily descendants of cavalry remounts that served our country as late as the World Wars. Sheldon NWR plans to remove all the horses from the Refuge in the next two years claiming they are incompatible with the mission of the refuge. Even though a herd of long-horned cattle is protected at Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, part of the same refuge system as Sheldon, the historic value of these horses that inhabited the land prior to the founding of Sheldon, whose ancestors valiantly served our country, is not recognized as worth preserving.
“I can not believe that Sheldon refuses to ensure safe placement of our war horses,” stated co-Plaintiff Kohleriter “these may very well be the last of the Sheldon horses that the American public will ever see. I do not understand why we can not do all we can to give them a chance after they leave the range.”
Laura Leigh, co-Plaintiff and founder of Wild Horse Education has been following and fighting for protections for the Sheldon horses for over a decade. In 2009 she filed litigation that addressed Sheldon’s failure to protect horses from slaughter as they stated in their policy documents. In 2010 she was reassured by the Refuge that they had chosen a new contractor and would follow up to ensure compliance.
Instead of being transparent about what they are doing, the Refuge has done all they can to hide their actions. In 2010 they removed horses without giving public notice and from 2010-2012 failed to provide any observation of removals at all. Earlier in 2013 the Refuge removed the burros that inhabited the area without so much as a press release. This year an observation opportunity for the horse removal was afforded to the public only after Wild Horse Education attorney Gordon Cowan wrote a letter on behalf of Plaintiffs.
“Observation opportunities at Sheldon are minimal,” stated Leigh “no meaningful observation to assess condition of animals has been provided at the trap site. No observation at all to document individual animals and their condition has been provided at holding. With all of the secrecy at Sheldon I shudder to think of the fate of the majority of the 400 horses coming off the range this year. The last horse from Sheldon may well disappear without any ability to document the treatment and well being of the horse. It is an American disgrace.”
A Temporary Restraining Order will be sought to stop the transport of horses from the range and to demand that documentation opportunities be afforded to document all horses in holding prior to them leaving the Refuge.
“There are many options that could be taken including slowing removals to allow appropriate placement,” stated Leigh “Right now the foaling rate at the Refuge is less than 5% due to permanent sterilization techniques used in the past. It is a shame that the only option Sheldon wants to explore is remove horses now without any sincere concern to the consequence. We will continue to explore all options to create an acceptable solution however it became clear that we had no option but to file litigation.”
WildHorseEducation.org is a Nevada non-profit devoted to gaining protection for wild horses and burros from abuse, slaughter and extinction.
Links of interest:
Roundup photos from Sheldon: http://wildhorseeducation.org/2013/09/10/sheldon-roundup-begins/
Wild Horse Education Website: http://wildhorseeducation.org