Devil’s Garden (Calif.) roundup ends with 506 wild horses captured, 5 killed

/ In The News, News, Roundups

A captured wild horse in temporary holding during a 2016 roundup on the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory. RTF file photo.

The U.S. Forest Service ended its wild horse helicopter roundup on the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory near Alturas, Calif. A total of 506 wild horses (225 mares, 217 studs and 64 foals) were captured and removed from their home range. Five wild horses were killed during the roundup, four that were put down for unspecified pre-existing / chronic ailments or injuries and one for an acute injury suffered during the roundup. No further details were provided.

Nineteen wild horses were captured on Friday and 18 on Saturday, the 31st and 32nd and final day of the roundup.

USFS had set out to remove 600 wild horses from Devil’s Garden. “Though the goal was 600, challenging horses and changing weather patterns make 506 a successful outcome,” the agency said in a press release on Monday.

The USFS  was attempting to continue reducing the population of California’s last large wild horse herd to an “Appropriate Management Level” of 206-402 wild horses. “Reducing overpopulation helps address unsustainable impacts on aquatic resources, wildlife, hunting, grazing and other traditional cultural practices,” the USFS said in a press release before the roundup.

Prior to the roundup, USFS estimated the population on the 232,520-acre territory at 1,926 adult wild horses. In 2019, the agency said there were 1,802.

USFS did not treat and release any mares with safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccines, which would have slowed reproduction and could have halted future roundups.

In 2020, the Forest Service captured 506 wild horses at Devil’s Garden. That followed roundups in 2019 (499 wild horses captured) and 2018 (932 wild horses captured). In each case, the USFS  failed to treat any mares with fertility control.

By comparison, USFS permits 26,880 Animal Unit Months of seasonal livestock grazing on the wild horse territory, the equivalent of 2,240 cow-calf pairs annually. One Animal Unit Month is defined as a month’s forage for one horse, one cow / calf pair or five sheep.

USFS is still attempting to place about 15 horses gathered in 2020 and held at Modoc National Forest’s Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals.

Return to Freedom and other advocates sued USFS after the agency announced unprecedented plans just before the 2018 roundup to sell older wild horses captured during without protections against slaughter.  In May 2019, U.S. District Judge James Donato ordered advocates and USFS to engage in settlement talks. 

A stipulated prohibition remained in place as the suit progressed, barring the agency from selling the horses without restriction. During that time, USFS was able to adopt or sell the remaining older wild horses, which were kept in corrals at Modoc National Forest, with restrictions in place. That included a dozen horses taken in by RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary.

USFS had been seeking to take advantage of a loophole in which Congress had barred BLM from selling horses to slaughter but had not expressly forbidden USFS from doing so. RTF successfully lobbied to have both agencies prevented from selling horses or burros without restriction in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget as well as from killing healthy horses or burros.

To read USFS’s planning documents, click here.

Viewing the roundup

USFS says it is allowing only two people to view the roundup per day on a first-come, first-served basis, to which RTF strongly objects.

To make an appointment, call 530-233-8738. Viewers with reservations should arrive at 225 W. Eighth St. in Alturas by 7 a.m., follow forest personnel to the parking location and remain on site until the roundup ends for the day. Viewers should bring their own water and lunch, wear neutral-colored clothing and prepare for changing weather.

TAKE ACTION: Sign our petition telling Congress that BLM, USFS should allocate an equitable share of resources to wild horses, burros.