Wild horse advocates will get the first option to purchase horses collected from Nevada’s Virginia Range by that state’s Department of Agriculture under an agreement struck between the agency and Return to Freedom, Inc. (RTF), a California-based wild horse advocacy group and sponsor of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) spokesman Ed Foster said that approximately 2,500 horses reside on the Virginia Range, a private rangeland surrounded by four major highways. The animals are so-called “estrays,” descended from wild horses and domestic horses turned out onto the range by their owners. The NDA, which is tasked with managing the animals, has removed some of the horses from the Virginia Range to prevent animals that wander onto the nearby highways from being killed by motorists, Foster said. The gathered horses are then sold at auction, Foster said.

“We’re following statute here which goes back to Nevada brand laws,” Foster said.

However, the sale of the horses at auction has drawn criticism from some wild horse advocates on grounds that the animals could be sold at auction to buyers who would resell the animals for slaughter at horse processing plants in Mexico and Canada.

On March 12, the NDA and RTF entered into a cooperative agreement whereby the RTF can purchase the collected horses for $100 per horse on an as-is basis, Foster said. Under the agreement, RTF will work with third parties who either adopt or purchase the horses to ensure that the animals are not released back onto the Virginia Range. Also under the agreement, RTF must provide the NDA