Facing increasing public pressure, the U.S. Forest Service on Friday announced that it would lengthen to 90 days the timeframe during which it would sell with some limitations older horses captured during its ongoing roundup at the Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory.
Originally, the Forest Service said that it would sell an estimated 300 of the Northern California wild horses ages 10-older without restriction after 30 days — making them vulnerable to purchase by kill buyers that would purchase them for as little as $1 apiece and transport them to foreign slaughterhouses.
Now, the Forest Service says it will apply for a longer time period some sale restrictions, including prohibiting using horses for human consumptions, as well as appropriate transportation and “healthy accommodations” for purchased animals.
The Forest Service plans to capture and remove 1,000 wild horses from Devils Garden, part of Modoc National Forest near Alturas, Calif. Through Friday, 154 wild horses had been captured during the helicopter roundup that began on Wednesday. None have been injured, according to the agency.
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 the 300 older wild horses to corrals at Modoc National Forest to begin the 90-day sale with some restrictions. The remaining 700 or so younger horses 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 on Thursday, 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 4,000 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.