Controversial Roundup and Removal of Devil’s Garden Wild Horses Ends

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Mary Koncel, AWHC

After a month of  trauma and terror, the helicopter roundup of the Devil’s Garden wild horses managed by the U.S. Forest Service has ended.

In total, 932 horses have permanently lost their homes on 300,000 federally-protected acres in the Modoc National Forest near Altura, CA , falling short of the 1,000 horses who were targeted for removal.

Fourteen horses died, and 3 mares miscarried during the operation, probably from the stress of being stampeded during the roundup. The deaths include:

  • 13 horses euthanized (2 acute and 11 chronic or pre-existing conditions, including 7 from Pigeon Fever at the Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals– the Forest Service’s new short-term holding facility)
  • 1 foal death

While Pigeon Fever is contagious, it is not fatal, and most horses recover from the infection, sometimes even without veterinary care. Therefore, it’s inexcusable that the Forest Service euthanized the horses showing symptoms instead of treating them.  The agency has also provided few details on the acute injuries or the chronic or pre-existing conditions that warranted killing the six other horses – or the cause of the foal’s death.

Despite the outbreak of Pigeon Fever at the Double Devil  corrals, the Forest Service is still planning on holding an adoption/sale of older horses on Friday and Saturday, November 16th and 17th.   (Younger horses are being held at the BLM facility in Susanville, CA, and are not yet ready for adoption.)

Last week, AWHC sent the Forest Service a letter, requesting that the event be postponed to contain the spread of the disease. According to a November 3rd press release, the Forest Service discovered the disease on October 26th.  Because its incubation period is three to four weeks, additional horses may be infected. 

While all horses at the Double Devil corrals will be available for adoption, horses over 10 years old will also be sold “with limitations.” The adoption fee is $125 per horse for up to four horses, with title transferred after one year.  However, older horses will be sold for $25 with immediate title transfer; up to 24 horses can be purchased per day.

After January 10, 2019, the Forest Service will make horses 10 years and older available “without limitations,” meaning that they will be sold for $1 each with a limit of 36 per week and immediate title transfer.  Younger horses who been passed over for adoption three times might also be available for sale “without limitations.”

Dumping horses by the truckload for $1 each will most likely result in hundreds of them either being sold for slaughter or use in the rodeo as bucking stock or for tripping – and is a radical departure from the Forest Service’s previous sales policy.

AWHC and the Animal Legal Defense Fund have filed a lawsuit against the federal government to block the sale of Devil’s Garden wild horses without limitations on slaughter.

Meanwhile, protest continues to grow. Recently, California Attorney General Anthony Becerra sent a letter to the Forest Service, warning that selling or exporting horses for slaughter for human consumption is a felony in the state of California since passage of Proposition 6 in 1998. 

U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein and  23 members of the California State Legislature have also expressed their opposition to this inhumane plan.  And AWHC, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, AWHC has filed a lawsuit to stop it.

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