Wild horse roundup to begin in Modoc despite last-minute protest

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Dale Kasler, The Sacramento Bee

October 10, 2018

controversial roundup of 1,000 wild horses was set to begin Wednesday morning in Modoc National Forest despite an eleventh-hour appeal from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Animal rights groups have said the horses could wind up being sold to slaughterhouses. But the U.S. Forest Service, which is overseeing the roundup, said the horse population needs to be reduced to “sustain the natural ecological balance” of the forest’s Devils Garden Plateau Territory.

About 3,900 horses currently roam the territory in a space designated for no more than 402, according to a Forest Service planning document.

Although the Forest Service has been planning the roundup for years, the Modoc roundup is the first “horse gather” on public lands in 13 years, and media attention has intensified in recent days. Sally Carter, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said the roundup was expected to begin by mid-morning.

The roundup is supposed to take a month.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, a group based in Davis, said it fears the animals will be “sold to slaughter plants to produce horse meat for foreign consumption.”

“While we understand the Forest Service’s desire to reduce the Devils Garden wild horse population, the agency must do so in a humane and socially acceptable manner,” the group added.

Suzanne Roy, the group’s executive director, said in an interview Wednesday that several animal rights groups plan to ask California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to intervene. She said California law forbids the slaughter of wild horses.

She said the horses are protected from slaughter by the federal Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but that law only covers the Interior Department, not the Forest Service, which is under the Department of Agriculture. In previous administrations, the Forest Service followed the law anyway, but that’s changed under the Trump administration, she said.

“It’s basically a legal technicality,” she said.

Feinstein sent the Forest Service’s acting chief, Vicki Christiansen, a letter late Tuesdayasking for a halt to “any sales of wild horses” unless the agency can “certify that no horses that are sold will be transferred to third-party buyers who may end up slaughtering the animals for commercial use.”

Originally posted by The Sacramento Bee