Update: A positive day in fight to stop unrestricted sale of Devils Garden wild horses

Wild horses photographed during a 2016 roundup on the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory in Northern California. RTF file photo by Steve Paige.

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Thursday marked a positive day in federal court in Return to Freedom’s ongoing fight to prevent horses from Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory in Northern California from being shipped to slaughter – and to keep the U.S. Forest Service from taking the unprecedented step of selling captured wild horses without limitations.

A federal judge on in San Francisco ordered two groups of advocates, including RTF, to attempt to reach a settlement with the Forest Service over the agency’s plan to sell wild horses captured at Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in Northern California without limitations against slaughter.

For now, a stipulated prohibition remains in place, keeping the Forest Service from selling the remaining wild horses without restriction.

U.S. District Judge James Donato ordered the parties to report back to him in 30 days after what he called a “breakthrough moment” during Thursday’s hearing, when Forest Service attorney Rickey Turner said more than once that “the Forest Service will never intentionally sell its horses for slaughter for human consumption.”

Bruce Wagman, attorney for RTF, said that, “The Forest Service’s agreement at the hearing that it will not sell wild horses to slaughter validates both the legal claims we are making and the public’s rejection of any suggestion that wild horses will be sold without limitations. If the Forest Service is good to its word, we will have prevailed in this litigation.  If it is not, we will keep up the fight.”

The plaintiffs contend that the Forest Service decision to sell wild horses without restrictions violates federal laws, as well as the agency’s own planning directives and management documents, and ignores the purpose and spirit of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Horse slaughter and the transportation of horses out of state for purposes of slaughter is illegal under California law.

The wild horses in question are among 932 captured during a helicopter roundup at Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in the Modoc National Forest near Alturas, Calif.

As the roundup was set to begin — years after public comment on the planned roundup closed – the Forest Service announced that once the roundup was complete, it would briefly offer to sell captured horses 10 years old and older with restrictions against slaughter before dropping the limitation in January.

Were the Forest Service to sell wild horses without restriction, it would fly in the face of prohibitions against selling federally protected wild horses to slaughter repeatedly included by Congress in annual appropriations bills.

Under federal law, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management can sell wild horses ages 10-over or that have been passed over for adoption three times.

The majority of the wild horses captured at Devil’s Garden were transported to the Bureau of Land Management’s Litchfield Corrals in Susanville, Calif. Those included most of the wild horses ages 9-younger as well as pregnant mares 10-older. They are being offered for adoption.

The balance of the captured wild horses, most ages 10-over, have been offered for adoption or sale with restrictions from the Forest Service’s Double Devil Corrals at Modoc National Forest. The Forest Service dropped the sale price for the older animals from $25 to $1.

As of this week, 18 captured wild horses remain at Modoc National Forest. Of those, 10 horses are ages 10-older.

Because the younger horses there have now been offered for adoption three times, they are also eligible for sale. The Forest Service has announced that it plans to drop the sale price for the younger horses from $25 to $1 apiece, with restrictions against slaughter, starting on May 13.

Wagman, of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP, is representing Return to Freedom, the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane, the Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills, and two California humane law enforcement officers, Cindy Machado and Rosemary Frieborn.

Adoption appointments

To schedule an adoption or sale appointment at Modoc National Forest’s Double Devil Corrals, contact (530) 233-8738.

To book an adoption appointment for BLM’s Litchfield facility, contact vrettera@blm.gov.

Adoption / sale information

For USFS adoption and sale forms and for more information, click here. Photos of the wild horses can be found on the Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals Facebook.

USFS continues to allow adopter / buyer viewing, selection and pickup of wild horses by appointment each Wednesday and Friday as well as on the first Saturday of each month. Appointments must be confirmed at least seven days in advance after completing a “Viewing and Pickup Scheduling” request form by clicking here and submitting it to modoc_info@fs.fed.us.

For more information about the BLM adoption process, click here.

Take Action

Click here to send a message to the U.S. Forest Service opposing unrestricted sale of the Devils Garden Wild Horses.

Donate to RTF’s Wild Horse Defense Fund