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Group sues US Forest Service over wild horses

ALTURAS, Calif. (AP) -- Animal advocates have filed a lawsuit to prevent the U.S. Forest Service from rounding up many of the remaining wild horses in California's Modoc National Forest.

The plaintiffs said in a statement Monday that the government agency's plan to eliminate about 40 square miles of territory and reduce the horse population by 80 percent could lead to the sale of horses for slaughter and could endanger the long-term genetic viability of the remaining population.

“Wildlife depend upon federal agencies for protection; instead the Forest Service is protecting the private interests of ranchers,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit with several other law firms on behalf of the plaintiffs. “Wild horses have a historical right to territories designated and protected by acts of Congress.”

The current horse population is about 1,100 and the agency's plan would remove about 900, the lawsuit claims.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, include the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, the Return to Freedom horse sanctuary and the advocate Carla Bowers.

The area _ nicknamed the Devil's Garden _ is the last large wild horse territory in California and had been home to the animals for more than 150 years. Roundups of the horses could mean herding them into corrals, separating them from their family members and possibly selling them for slaughter in Canada or Mexico, the advocates said.

Messages left for representatives of the U.S. Forest Service on Monday evening were not immediately returned.

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