The Humane Society of the United States, joined by several other organizations, is suing to stop the U.S. Forest Service from carrying out a plan that could result in the sale of wild horses, now being rounded up in California, to slaughter.

Earlier this month, I told you about the misguided plan to round up nearly 1,000 horses from the Devil’s Garden wild horse territory in California’s Modoc National Forest. Horses more than 10 years old could be sold “without limitation,” and for as little as a dollar, almost guaranteeing they will be bought by kill buyers, who funnel thousands of American horses and burros each year into the horse meat trade.

This plan is not only heartless, it is also illegal. It runs contrary to decades of agency policy that prohibits horses from being sold for slaughter, and it violates several federal laws. It will also inevitably result in violations of California’s law that criminalizes the possession or transport of equines with the purpose of slaughtering them for human consumption. Soon after the plan was announced, we and our partners sent a letter to the Forest Service alerting them about this illegality, but received no response.

Our lawsuit, filed yesterday, contends that the Forest Service’s decision to change its longstanding policy was made without the legally required explanation. Moreover, we’ve also argued that it violates the agency’s obligation to engage in a thorough analysis of the environmental impacts of the decision to sell the horses without restrictions. We’ve been joined in this lawsuit by several other groups, including Front Range Equine Rescue, Return to Freedom, the Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills and Marin Humane, and two California humane law enforcement officers.

The U.S. Congress has been very clear that wild horses and burros should not be sold for slaughter, and almost every year since 2005, U.S. appropriations bills have included language to keep slaughter plants closed in the United States. Congress has also restricted the Bureau of Land Management – the agency that manages the vast majority of our nation’s wild horses – from knowingly allowing them to go to slaughter, to end up on someone’s plate. Unfortunately, no such restriction exists for the U.S. Forest Service, and that’s the loophole that the agency is trying to exploit with its latest action.

We fully understand that managing wild horse and burro populations is a complicated matter, but continuing a cycle of removals that result in these animals going to slaughter is not an option that should even be on the table. We urge the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to implement a humane and effective fertility control plan that manages wild horse and burro populations without indiscriminate removal, and respects the legally protected status of these animals.

We continue to be hopeful that the agency will change its mind and rescind its latest plan in California. The vast majority of Americans detests the idea of selling wild horses – or any horses – to slaughter for human consumption. But if the Forest Service persists in pursuing its unlawful course, we look forward to seeing them in court, where we will fight all the way to protect these iconic animals who deserve much, much better than the horrors of a slaughterhouse in Mexico or Canada.