Devil’s Garden (Calif.) roundup ends with 506 wild horses captured, 9 killed

/ In The News, News, Roundups
A contractor’s helicopter pursues wild horses during a 2016 roundup at Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory. RTF filed photo by Steve Paige.

After capturing 39 wild horses over the courses of Friday and Saturday, the U.S. Forest Service has ended its helicopter roundup on the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory at Modoc National Forest.

A total of 506 wild horses were captured, including five horses that escaped.

The total number of deaths will be at least nine, however. Over the course of the roundup, USFS acknowledged two deaths following broken necks suffered when horses collided with panels and the deaths of four stallions from complications during gelding.

One Monday, USFS said in a press release that two foals were euthanized after being born prematurely and that a 13-year-old mare was put down “due to a partially retained placenta after the treatment she was on did not expel the placenta nor did the antibiotics help the infection.”

Another mare that suffered a leg injury is not responding to treatment and may be euthanized.

USFS’s goal was to capture and remove 500 wild horses from Devil’s Garden, home of California’s last large wild horse herd, to help “reduce unsustainable impacts on aquatic resources, wildlife, hunting, grazing and other traditional cultural practices,” according to a press release.

USFS did not implement safe, proven and humane fertility control which would allow for Modoc National Forest to phase out future roundups in favor of humane, on-the-range management of wild horses.

USFS in 2013 set an Appropriate Management Level of 206-402 wild horses at 268,750-acre Devil’s Garden — as low as one horse for every 1,305 acres.

Prior to this roundup, USFS said Devil’s Garden was home to 1,663 adult wild horses – an estimate based on 2019 survey results of 1,802 based on census flights. Advocates have argued that census numbers of the Wild Horse Territory have been inflated, while USFS says other partners contend that the number may be low because of tree cover.

By comparison, USFS permits 26,880 Animal Unit Months of private livestock 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.

Adopting a wild horse

Some of the captured wild horses with remain at Modoc National Forest’s Double Devil Corrals, while others will be shipped to the BLM’s Litchfield (Calif.) Off-Range Corrals. USFS has planned a virtual placement event for Dec. 1. Wild horses ages 10-older will be available for adoption and sales with limitations against slaughter starting Dec. 1. Younger horses must be passed over for adoption three times before being available for sale, likely starting in mid-January.

All wild horses that are available for sale will cost $25 for 30 days, then the price will drop to $1 apiece.

For information on adopting or purchasing a Devil’s Garden wild horses,  
call (530) 233-8738 or emaiSM.FS.modoc_info@usda.gov. Find applications and additional information at https://go.usa.gov/xQ3r3

Background

The fate of the herd – and of wild horses removed from Devil’s Garden – has resulted in litigation pitting RTF and other activists against USFS.

In 2018, USFS captured 932 wild horses Devil’s Garden. As the roundup was set to begin — years after public comment on the planned roundup closed – the USFS announced that it would briefly sell captured horses 10 years old and older with restrictions against slaughter, then, in an unprecedented move, drop those protections.

About 300 older horses ages 10 years and older – including mature stallions and pregnant mares – were placed in jeopardy of being sold to kill-buyers who would transport them to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

RTF joined other advocates in filing a lawsuit seeking to stop the USFS from selling the older horses to slaughter. USFS was attempting to take advantage of the fact that while Congress has repeatedly barred the Bureau of Land Management from selling wild horses without protections against slaughter and euthanizing healthy horses, lawmakers had not previously specifically prohibited USFS from doing so. 

USFS agreed not to sell any wild horses to slaughter until the court ruled. As the case wore on, all 300 of the older horses were either adopted or sold with restrictions against slaughter — including 12 of the last remaining horses to which RTF gave a new home at its satellite sanctuary in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

RTF successfully lobbied Congress to ensure that the USFS would be barred from using taxpayer dollars to sell wild horses without prohibitions against slaughter or euthanizing healthy horses or burros. With the addition of such a prohibition to its spending bill, the plaintiffs successfully forestalled the unrestricted sale and filed to voluntarily dismiss their case.

Also as a result of the USFS’s actions, a state bill, Assembly Bill 128, supported by a number of horses and animal welfare organizations in the state, including RTF, was also signed into law in an attempt to tighten the existing anti-horse slaughter laws.

In 2019, the USFS captured and removed another 499 wild horses at Devil’s Garden. The agency offered them for adoption three times before opening up sales at $25 apiece but with restrictions against slaughter. Later, the Forest Service dropped the price to $1 per horse with restrictions against slaughter.

Even as the current roundup began, 13 wild horses from the 2019 roundup remained at the forest’s Double Devil corrals, available for sale of adoption.

RTF continues to press the USFS to implement robust programs of proven, safe and humane fertility control that would allow for the phasing out of roundups by slowing, not stopping, wild horse reproduction.

Take Action: Sign our petition calling for a fair share of resources for wild horses and burros

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