Friends of Animals has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Oregon challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s 2018 Wild Horse Sale Policy, which was quietly issued on May 25 to get around a Congressional ban on slaughter.

The policy, which wasn’t made public until July 20, allows buyers to purchase 24 horses at a time with no questions asked.

“The policy removes many of the procedural safeguards put in place to prevent the sale of wild horses to individuals who seek to resell them to slaughter,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program. “A vast majority of Americans—including Congress—believe that wild horses should not be wantonly slaughtered by BLM. But in issuing an order this summer for BLM to expedite the sale of wild horses to third parties by the truck load, Interior Secretary Zinke is putting in place his own version of a slaughter plan regardless of the views of Congress and the public.”

Prior to the 2018 Wild Horse Policy, a buyer could only purchase four wild horses or burros in a six-month period. The policy was implemented in 2013 after it was discovered that a Colorado livestock buyer sent more than 1,700 mustangs to slaughter.

In its lawsuit, FoA states that in issuing the policy, BLM broke the law because such a policy is subject to notice and public comment; it is an arbitrary and capricious reversal of BLM’s past policies; and it violates the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which specifies that “appropriations herein made shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of the BLM or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”

Harris explained that the new policy also undermines FoA’s ongoing efforts to force BLM to consider returning some wild horses to the Three Fingers Herd Management in eastern Oregon. FoA successfully challenged a 2016 emergency roundup decision where horses were completely removed from one pasture in the HMA.

“We are currently seeking an order from this court that would direct BLM to consider the environmental impacts associated with that decision, and to consider whether mitigation would necessitate return of some of the removed horses,” Harris said. “However, it can often take several years before removed horses can be returned after an emergency removal. The 2018 Wild Horse Sale Policy requires Oregon BLM officials to sell off the Three Finger wild horses as quickly as possible, thus potentially undermining any relief FoA can obtain in that action.”