A wild horse sanctuary is trying to save some 300 mustangs from unrestricted sale for as little as $1 each by arranging adoptive homes.
The action is in response to the US Forest Service’s helicopter roundup of 1000 horses at the Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory at Modoc National Forest near Alturas, California. It is the state’s largest wild horse herd.
The captured wild horses will be put up for sale with limitation for 60 days after being made ready for placement. Limitations include prohibiting the purchase of wild horses for human consumption.
But after that 60-day period, the Forest Service plans to sell the remaining wild horses without restrictions, for as little as $1 each.
Wild horses are separated from their family bands and herds and sorted by age and gender, with the older horses – including pregnant mares – in greatest jeopardy of being sold to kill buyers who will transport them to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
California-based Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation has joined with other wild horse advocates, the public, and federal and state lawmakers to urge the Forest Service to abandon its sale plans that open the door to the slaughter pipeline. It is rallying landowners willing to provide a safe home for wild horses, provide transportation, or make donations to support rescue efforts should the Forest Service follow through with its plan for the unrestricted sale of horses aged 10 and older, starting in January.
“Capturing wild horses just before the onset of winter increases the risk to the most vulnerable animals,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom, which operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary.
“Having survived being chased over extremely rocky ground by a helicopter, the oldest horses will now be placed in unsheltered holding corrals in harsh weather at a time when feed is at its most expensive. Placing hundreds of horses in good homes in just 60 days is even more difficult at this time of year.”
Past polls have found about 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter. In 1998, Californians passed a ballot measure, Prop. 6, barring horse slaughter in the state, sale of horse meat for human consumption and transportation of horses out of the state for purposes of slaughter.
Captured wild horses under the age of nine are being transported to Bureau of Land Management corrals in Susanville, California, where they will be offered for adoption. Forest Service officials have said that arrangements have been made for BLM to keep captured wild horses there for one year, but no longer, possibly placing them in jeopardy of eventually being sold to slaughter without restrictions where they could also end up in the slaughter pipeline.
The Forest Service is attempting to remove more than quarter of the wild horses in California’s last large herd after Congress, in its Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations package, specifically prohibited the sale without limitation of wild horses and burros by the BLM but not by the Forest Service.
“The Forest Service created this situation by not investing in safe, proven and humane fertility control for mares,” DeMayo said.
“The very least the agency could do is reduce the number of horses they plan to round up this year, stagger removals to better work with California’s horse community to find homes for captured horses, and begin an aggressive fertility control program at Devils Garden.
“In 2016, the Forest Service did create a placement committee for the Devils Garden wild horses that included advocates, ranchers, and community members. Rushing ahead with this large-scale roundup, implementing sales without restrictions undermines that effort and is a slap in the face of that committee. The agency is squandering the opportunity for collaboration and turning its back on one of California’s last herds when they could have begun a fertility control program years ago.”
Return to Freedom urges the public and lawmakers to continue pressuring the agency to stop the plan. At the same time, wild horse advocates and the horse-loving public should begin preparing to help with solutions.