Devil’s Garden (Calif.) update: USFS captures 29 wild horses; stallion escapes

/ In The News, News, Roundups

A contractor’s helicopter pursues wild horses during a 2016 roundup at the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory. RTF file photo.

The U.S. Forest Service on Thursday captured 29 wild horses on the seventh day of a 600-horse helicopter roundup on the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory, located at Modoc National Forest near Alturas, Calif. One stallion escaped the trap site.

A total of 154 wild horses have been captured so far. No deaths have been reported.

The USFS  is 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.

The USFS estimates the current population on the 232,520-acre territory at 1,926 adult wild horses. In 2019, the agency said there were 1,802.

USFS has no plans to treat and release any mares with safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccines, which would slow reproduction and could halt 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 private 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.

In its press release on Friday, USFS said that the Wild Horse Territory has been hit hard by prolonged drought.

“Many horses may look in pictures like they are in good shape, but corral staff report that before filling up on hay even the healthiest horses do not show the same solid structure for which the Devil’s Garden Herd is known,” USFS said in the release. “While weaker horses do not fare so well, horses who can compete for forage are still eating as they break through ‘exclosure’ fencing built to keep cattle from feeding on delicate riparian vegetation. These areas are protected for native wildlife and aquatic species including macroinvertebrates that support the entire food chain. They are negatively impacted by loss of vegetative cover and large ungulates wading in the water.”

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.

 

 

 

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