The U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday announced another change to its plan to sell an estimated 300 of the wild horses that it intends to capture and remove from the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory in Northern California.
A total of 295 wild horses have been captured without reported injuries since the helicopter roundup began on Oct. 10. The Forest Service plans to capture and remove 1,000 wild horses from Devils Garden, part of Modoc National Forest near Alturas, Calif.
The agency now says it will lengthen the period it sells wild horses ages 10-older with some limitations from 30 to 60 days “after being made ready for placement,” or beginning “no earlier than Jan. 10.” 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.
Depending on the time that agency deems necessary to provide veterinary care and prepare wild horses for sale, the change may be minimal from one announced last week, however: On Friday, the Forest Service said it would extend the sales period with limitation 90 days from the start of the roundup, which would fall on Jan. 8.
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.
Under its altered plan, the Forest Service will transport an estimated 300 older wild horses to corrals at Modoc National Forest. 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.
Rescuing wild horses
Note: If you are interested in providing sanctuary to small or large numbers of the older wild horses captured during roundup — those most vulnerable to being sold for slaughter — please contact email@example.com.
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 personel will guide them to the parking location. Tours of the sorting facility will be offered after daily roundup operations.