Sixty-four members of Congress have signed a letter of concern to the U.S. Forest Service about its plan to sell older wild horses captured at Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory without restriction, placing them in danger of being purchased by kill buyers.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen, the members of Congress said that they were “deeply troubled” by the plan and said it represented a “severe abdication of the government’s responsibility to manage these federally-protected horses humanely.”
The letter comes in advance of a federal court hearing on Thursday in San Francisco in which two sets of advocates, including Return to Freedom, will argue against the unrestricted sale of the wild horses.
Wrote the members of Congress:
“Congress’s intent on this matter is abundantly clear. Through annual Department of the Interior appropriations legislation, Congress has passed unambiguous language protecting wild horses from destruction for commercial purposes. To our knowledge, the Forest Service has never attempted to sell wild horses under its authority without restrictions on slaughter. Rather, the agency has abided by the Interior appropriations language and Congress’s clear position regarding the humane and appropriate management of federally-protected wild horses.
“The process of slaughter presents serious welfare concerns as horses are typically transported extremely long distances in crowded trailers without food, water, or rest. Once at the slaughterhouse, horses, with their unique physiology and strong fight-or-flight reflex, may endure repeated blows before being rendered unconscious and killed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture itself documented appalling conditions and abuse when horse slaughter facilities operated on U.S. soil. Animal welfare concerns aside, ensuring consistency between how our federal agencies manage wild horses is paramount.”
Last fall, USFS captured and removed 932 wild horses during a helicopter roundup at Devils Garden. The majority, about 650 horses, were shipped to Bureau of Land Management corrals in Susanville, Calif.
Most wild horses ages 10-older were kept at the newly built Double Devil Corrals at Modoc National Forest in Alturas, Calif. They were immediately sale-eligible (with restrictions against slaughter) under federal law. The younger wild horses kept there are now sale-eligible, as well, after being offered for adoption three times.
USFS announced its plan to sell older horses without restriction as the roundup was set to begin, years after public comment on planning documents had closed.
RTF and the other plaintiffs in its suit are arguing that unrestricted sale would violate 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 Burro Act. California law also prohibits the slaughter of horses and transportation of horses out of state for purposes of slaughter.
On Monday, USFS did not immediately provide an updated number for the number of wild horses remaining at the Double Devil Corrals. In mid-April, “about 30” remained, according to USFS; of those, 21 were mares, most pregnant, and nine geldings ages 9-under, with the balance horses ages 10-over.
USFS is offering the younger animals for adoption or for sale with restrictions against slaughter $25 apiece, with plans to drop the price to $1 on May 13. The older horses are being offered for adoption or sale at $1 apiece.
The BLM’s Litchfield facility reported on Monday that 576 Devils Garden wild horses remain there (more than 100 are yearlings, 245 are 2-5 years old and 166 are 6-10 years old). Of those that have left the facility, most have been adopted but have been transported to adoption events in other states with more to follow.
Adopters receive title after one year, while those that buy a horse receive title immediately.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.