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WASHINGTON (July 6, 2021) — The nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), joined by Skydog Sanctuary and its founder, Clare Staples, Evanescent Mustang Rescue and Sanctuary, and wild horse photographer and advocate Carol Walker, filed suit late Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), claiming that the agencies violated multiple federal laws in the creation and implementation of the BLM’s controversial Adoption Incentive Program (AIP) for wild horses and burros. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the groups by Eubanks and Associates, a top national public interest environmental law firm.
The Trump era program — which pays individuals $1,000 to adopt untamed wild horses and burros — was exposed in May by an AWHC investigation and a New York Times report as a pipeline to slaughter for truckloads of these federally-protected animals.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of letters sent by U.S. Senator Feinstein and over 30 members of Congress urging it to immediately suspend the program and conduct an investigation into the slaughter claims. It was filed after the Interior Department failed to respond to a legal petition submitted by AWHC on June 30 demanding that the Interior Department terminate the AIP in its entirety, or impose a moratorium on any further payments under the AIP while the agencies conduct an investigation in order to bring the BLM into compliance with its duty to protect wild horses and burros and prevent them from being sold to slaughter.
“AWHC has provided the Interior Department with clear evidence that the Adoption Incentive Program has resulted in a dramatic uptick in the number of federally protected wild horses and burros entering the slaughter pipeline,” said Brieanah Schwartz, Director of Policy and Litigation for AWHC. “The Department has failed to suspend the program and conduct a meaningful investigation, so we are stepping in to uphold the Congressional ban on slaughtering these federally-protected animals by asking a federal court to stop this fraudulent program.”
“The AIP program needs to be abolished because our wild horses are in need of our protection and care,” said Carol Walker, a wild horse photographer and advocate. “They deserve to be treated with compassion and respect, not treated as a disposable nuisance.”
“Skydog Sanctuary has spent years rescuing wild horses and burros out of the slaughter pipeline. By far, 2020 – the first year adopters received titles under the AIP – was the worst year we’ve ever seen,” said Clare Staples, founder of Skydog Sanctuary. “Even today we are in the middle of a rescue of four yearling AIP mustangs out of a kill pen. It’s heartbreaking that the Interior Department and the BLM are failing their mandate to protect and preserve wild horses and burros by refusing to halt this program.”
“When we heard about the AIP, we expected to see an influx of unhandled mustangs and burros into kill pens one year after the program’s implementation. Unsurprisingly, we were right,” said the President of Evanescent Mustang Rescue and Sanctuary. “The Interior Department’s failure to adequately respond to this crisis is unacceptable. This is why we decided to join other respected mustang advocates and take the Interior Department and the BLM to court.”
In addition to the legal claims, AWHC has obtained mounting documentation through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of rampant abuse and neglect of wild horses and burros as a result of this failed federal program. The group recently filed another lawsuit against the BLM for withholding AIP records in response to AWHC FOIA requests.