Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Update

You are here

Two months ago, the U.S. Forest Service completed its roundup and removal of 932 horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory (DGWHT) in the Modoc National Forest near Alturas, CA.  Besides losing their freedom and families, these cherished horses have endured ongoing mismanagement in captivity that includes euthnasia from Pigeon Fever, incompetent and inexperienced staff caring for them, and the ongoing threat of sale for slaughter. 

Here’s an update on the status of the Devil’s Garden horses as well as AWHC’s current litigation and efforts to pass additional state legislation to protect them.

THE HORSES

Forest Service’s Double Devil Wild Horse Corral

261 horses, mostly 10 years and older, were shipped to the new Double Devil Corrals on the Modoc National Forest.  

According to a December 4, 2018 report released by the Forest Service,

  • 7 horses euthanized after showing signs of a Pigeon Fever, a treatable disease;

  • 1 foal died;

  • 1 horse escaped;

  • 53 horses had been placed into private care – 23 adopted and 30 sold “with limitations”;

  • Of the remaining horses at the corrals:

    • 45 are 9 years old and younger, including 36 mares and 9 geldings

    • 162 are 10 years old and over, including 65 mares and 97 geldings.

Additionally, Forest Service staff reported that several mares were/are in foal, with many experiencing miscarriages. Exact numbers are unavailable.    

To our knowledge, so far no one individual purchaser has bought a large number of horses, and all the horses have been adopted or purchased by legitimate trainers, private citizens, or rescues/sanctuaries.

On December 19, 2018,  the Forest Service unexpectedly announced its new sales policy for the Devil’s Garden horses – the fee to purchase horses over 10 years old “with limitations“ was reduced from $25 to $1 per horse until February 18, 2019.  Up to 24 horses can be purchased a day.

After February 18, 2019, the Forest Service still plans to sell horses over 10 years old for $1 each “without limitations,” meaning that it places no restrictions on sale for slaughter.  Up to 36 horses can be purchased a month. A federal court in San Francisco is scheduled to hear our motion for an injunction to block the sale of federally-protected horses for slaughter. (See below for more details.)

Between January 7th -13th, 2019, the USFS was also planning to roll out its new Online Corrals that would allow the public to adopt or purchase Devil’s Garden horses through the internet. However, as a result of the federal shutdown, the launch has been delayed.

AWHC has ongoing concerns about the welfare of the horses at the Modoc corrals because staff hired and supervised by the Modoc County Farm Bureau has no experience handling or caring for wild horses. We have observed firsthand the inhumane and incompetent handling of horses in the corrals.  We are also concerned over the continued sale of horses from the corrals during the shutdown.  We have been informed by Amanda McAdams, Modoc Forest Supervisor that they are only allowing people who have already paid for adopted or purchased horses to pick them up. However if the Forest Service is able to secure additional funds in the near future and before the shutdown ends, it will open up adoptions/sales to others and allow pickup. We continue to watch this situation closely and ask for oversight of the Forest Service’s care and disposition of the horses.

BLM Litchfield Corrals

653 horses, 10 years and younger, were shipped to the BLM Litchfield Corral in Susanville, CA. According to the BLM, these horses will become available for adoption after they are processed, which includes gelding, vaccinations, and freeze branding. The fate of any Devils Garden horses who remain unadopted after three adoption attempts is uncertain, and the Forest Service has acknowledged that, space available, it may move such horses back to the Modoc Corrals for sale, possibly without limitation. 

Future Plans

The Forest Service hopes to conduct a census this winter of the DGWHT to verify the number of remaining horses and their location. If the census leads to a determination that there are “excess” horses on the DGWHT, another roundup and removal would occur, most likely in the fall.  While the Forest Service allows only 206 – 402 wild horses on over 250,000 acres of federally-protected wild horse habitat, it permits more than 6,000 privately owned cattle and sheep to graze there.

AWHC remains committed to pursuing a pilot PZP project and other humane management options on the DGWHT in partnership with the Forest Service. However, as explained to the Forest Service, we cannot move forward with this partnership until the agency abandons its plans to sell horses for $1 or without limitations and commits to working on smaller, incremental removals that do not overwhelm adoption demand or the capacity of rescues/sanctuaries to take Devil’s Garden horses.

LITIGATION EFFORTS

On October 19, 2018, AWHC, joined by ALDF and Carla Bowers, filed a complaint challenging the decision by the USFS to sell our federally-protected wild horses “without limitations.” Our lawsuit asked that the court (1) set aside the challenged agency decision for failing to comply with federal law and the agency’s own Forest Plan and remand the decision for further consideration by the USFS. We also asked (2) that the court enjoin the defendants from taking any further action to implement the decision to sell without limitations until the agency has fully complied with the laws.

On January 31, 2019 there will be a hearing on our motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the U.S. Forest Service from attempting to sell wild horses “without limitations.”

Go here to see all our filings in this case.

LEGISLATIVE EFFORTS

On December 8, 2018, Assemblyman Todd Gloria introduced AB 128 as a placeholder bill to announce his intent to "enact legislation that would protect California's wild and domestic horses." Assemblyman Gloria is the bill’s author and Assemblywoman Waldron is the principle co-author. AWHC is the bill’s sponsor, meaning that we are working with Assemblyman Gloria’s office on developing the specific legislative language that will go into the bill.