Devils Garden update: 17 more wild horses captured

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A contractor’s helicopter drives wild horses toward the trap site at the Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory during a 2016 roundup. RTF file photo by Steve Paige.

The U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday captured 17 additional wild horses during the ongoing helicopter roundup at the Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory in Northern California. No injuries were reported.

To date, the Forest Service has captured a total of 530 wild horses. Six wild horses have died, so far. The Forest Service has provided little detail, except that five horses have been put down for what it says were preexisting conditions and that one died as a result of an injury suffered in the holding corrals.

In addition, one foal has been born in the holding corrals.

The Forest Service plans to capture and remove 1,000 wild horses from Devils Garden, part of Modoc National Forest near Alturas, Calif.

Of those, an estimated 300 wild horses ages 10-older will be sold with some limitations for 60 days after being made ready for placement or “no earlier than Jan. 10,” according to the agency. Those limitations include prohibiting the purchase of wild horses for human consumption as well as providing appropriate transportation and “healthy accommodations.”

The older wild horses not purchased during that period will be sold without limitation, for as little as $1, putting them in danger of falling into the hands of kill buyers who will transport the animals to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. The threat has brought increasing public pressure on the Forest Service.

The Forest Service has sought to exploit a sort of loophole in restrictions the U,S. Congress placed on the sale of wild horses in its 2018 budget. Congress barred unrestricted sale of wild horses by the Bureau of Land Management but did not do so for the Forest Service.

The agency’s plans have drawn opposition from wild horse and animal welfare advocates, including Return to Freedom, and demands from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to explain how the Forest Service intends to keep captured wild horses from going to slaughter against the wishes of Congress and the public.

The remaining 700 or so younger horses, ages 9-younger, will be transported to Bureau of Land Management holding corrals in Susanville, Calif., where they will be offered for adoption over the next year.

Speaking before the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board last week, a Forest Service official said that the agency had not made arrangements for the younger horses to be moved to a long-term BLM pasture after the year ends, meaning that they too could be vulnerable to sale to kill buyers.

The Forest Service says it is conducting the roundup “to help address impacts on aquatic resources, wildlife, grazing and traditional cultural practices.”

“Reducing the population will allow range and riparian ecological conditions to recover, while also supporting wild horse herd health by reducing competition for limited food, water and habitat,” the Forest Service wrote in a press release.

The 232,520-acre Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory has an agency-set “Appropriate Management Level” of 206-402 wild horses — as few as one horse for every 1,129 acres. The Forest Service estimates there are about 3,900 wild horses at Devils Garden.

By comparison, the Forest Service permits 26,880 Animal Unit Months of private grazing on the wild horse territory. One Animal Unit Month is defined as a month’s forage for one horse, one cow / calf pair or five sheep.

Actual livestock use varied between 63-73% of the permitted maximum from 2006-12, according to Forest Service planning documents.

To view planning documents, click here.

Viewing the roundup

A limited number of members of the public will be able to view the helicopter roundup on a first-come, first-served basis. They must call (530) 233-8738 to make a reservation, then arrive at 225 W. Eighth St. in Alturas, Calif., by 6 a.m. Forest personnel will guide them to the parking location. Tours of the sorting facility will be offered after daily roundup operations.

You Can Help

Return to Freedom is already making preparations for the rescue of the older horses. Should the U.S. Forest Service go forward with their disastrous plan to lift all restrictions on sales of an estimated 300 wild horses ages 10-older from Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory, this puts them in jeopardy of being purchased by kill buyers.

To donate to Return to Freedom’s Wild Horse Defense Fund for the Devils Garden response effort:

Please click here if you can provide a good home to two or more wild horses, especially those ages 10-older, offer transportation for rescued horses, or would like to donate to support the rescue effort.

Take Action

Please click here to send a message to U.S. Forest Service Officials opposing the unrestricted sale of wild horses.

* Please click here to send a letter to your members of Congress urging them to oppose the Bureau of Land Management sale policy, which allows any buyer to purchase up to 24 wild horses with no waiting period, no oversight and no questions asked.

* Please keep calling U. S. Senators on the Conference Committee and urge them to continue standing up for wild horses and burros and opposing slaughter. Click here for suggested talking points and a list of phone numbers.