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Horse Protection Case: Safety, Economic Concerns for NV Tribe

PHOTO: More than 140 unbranded horses are at the center of a controversy, and a federal court case in Reno. Photo Credit: Rose Curtis.
PHOTO: More than 140 unbranded horses are at the center of a controversy, and a federal court case in Reno. Photo Credit: Rose Curtis.
August 21, 2013

LAS VEGAS - A local tribe says it will carefully watch today's federal court hearing about unbranded horses. Although not a party in the case, the tribe says it has major implications on the reservation.

Maxine Smart, who chairs the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribe, said they have been working with the Forest Service for years to prevent these unbranded horses from gobbling up water and scarce vegetation on tribal land, and also to prevent them from causing safety concerns.

"There's no feed up higher, so they come down in the populated areas," she said. "They get in the way of emergency personnel; they are on the roads when our school buses filled with children are running here on the reservation, and that causes dangerous conditions."

Today's hearing in Reno will determine whether an earlier injunction that prohibits the tribe from selling 148 unbranded horses at auction will stand.

Animal-protection advocates sued the Forest Service to prevent the horse sale from going forward. Attorney Jennifer Jeans with Nevada Legal Services, who represents the tribe, said the activists' hearts may be in the right place - but they don't know the reservation.

"They don't really know what the tribe is dealing with, in terms of these horses and the magnitude of the problem," she said. "The tribal leaders really wanted to preserve these lands, because they are essential to the tribe's economy and the tribe's livestock industry."

Animal-rights advocates have expressed concerns that many of the horses could go to slaughter. Smart said the animals would be going to public auction, where it will be up to buyers to determine their fate. Her main concern, she said, has to be for the common good of the tribe.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV