20 deaths– 4 during fall operation/16 in holding and still counting
By Mary Koncel, AWHC Program Specialist
(March 7, 2023) Last October, the fourth roundup of wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory (Territory) on the Modoc National Forest (MNF) in four years, ended. Almost 400 horses were removed and transferred to the MNF’s Double Devil Corrals. While the United States Forest Service (USFS) has made some small improvements in its adoption and sales program at Double Devil, the death of 20 horses so far from the 2022 helicopter/bait trapping operation is unacceptable and underscores the ongoing mismanagement of this herd.
Remember that the USFS is tasked with managing the Devil’s Garden wild horses on the 258,000-acre Territory in the MNF. Besides being the largest wild horse herd managed by the USFS, it’s also the largest wild horse herd residing in the state of California.
Unfortunately, despite their unique status, the USFS is targeting the Devil’s Garden horses with an unprecedented number of removals in order to appease local livestock ranchers who graze their cattle and sheep on these public lands for a pittance. This year, as in the past four years, the Federal Grazing Fee is $1.35 per cow/calf pair per month.
To reach an Appropriate Management Level (AML) of just 206 - 402 horses on the Territory, the USFS has captured about 2,333 horses and yearlings between 2018 and 2022. Here’s that breakdown:
2018 – 932
2019 – 506
2021 – 506
2022 – 389
Last spring, the USFS conducted a census that estimated there were 1,205 horses remaining on the Territory. After the 2022 fall roundup that took off those 389 horses, one might think that their numbers would drop to about 800 horses. But it won’t because the USFS refuses to use any fertility control on the MNF, so more and more foals will be born, and the roundups and removals will continue, costing the Devil’s Garden horses their homes, their freedom, and their lives and American taxpayers millions of dollars.
FALL 2022 ROUNDUP AND REMOVAL
On September 12, 2022, using both a helicopter and bait-trapping, the USFS began the roundup and removal that lasted about one month. To AWHC’s knowledge, the USFS did not post any information on the official end date, but AWHC believes it was October 12.
In an August 23rd press release, the USFS stated that it was planning on removing 500 horses. However, according to the latest “gather” report and MNF officials, 392 horses were rounded up, but 3 escaped, bringing the total number of horses removed to 389. These include 165 stallions, 180 mares, and 44 foals. This is the second year in a row that the USFS has not reached its number of horses for removal. Last year, the MNF stated that “challenging horses and changing weather patterns” resulted in the agency not reaching its original goal of 600 horses. However, AWHC believes that fewer and fewer horses on the Territory is making them harder to find and capture.
While the last “gather” report listed the number of wild horse deaths at 4, MNF officials stated in a February 6, 2023 email to AWHC that the total number of deaths is 20: 4 during the roundup/removal operation (2 Pre-existing and 2 Acute) and 16 at its Double Devil Corrals (11 Pre-existing and 5 Acute).
MNF officials wouldn’t provide the individual causes of those deaths, but AWHC has recently filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on the horses at the Double Devil Corrals that includes causes of death. We’ll share that information when we receive it.
With a $717,500 contract to “gather” the Devil’s Garden horses in 2022, Cattoor Livestock Roundup, Inc. of Nephi, UT was once again the big winner! That’s in addition to a $692,240 contract in 2021, another $496,061 contract in 2020, and yet another $654,737 contract in 2018. Adding all that up comes to over $2.5 million.
To be clear, the cost of the helicopter and bait-trapping is just the tip of the money iceberg. There’s also, for example, the expense of caring for the horses at the Double Devil Corrals, including staffing, hay, maintenance, and veterinary care. And, if the past is any predictor of the future, expect that Cattoor will also pick up some lucrative contracts to trailer Devil’s Garden horses across the country to remote adoption and sales locations.
Adoption and Sales
On January 3, 2023, the USFS began adopting and selling the 2022 Devil’s Garden horses at its Double Devil Corrals on the MNF and online. Unlike in the past, when some horses were transferred to BLM care and corrals, the USFS is keeping all the Devil’s Garden horses captured in the fall at Double Devil.
This timeline for offering the horses for placement is a vast improvement from the past when the USFS began adopting and selling horses just weeks after they had been removed – a major welfare concern. For example, at the 2018 sales and adoption event, some horses were still bleeding after being gelded.
Also, important is that the USFS will no longer be selling Devil’s Garden horses over 10 years old or younger horses who have been passed over for adoption three times for $1. The sale price will remain $25.
What’s still troubling, though, is the remote locations across the country where adopters and buyers can pick up their Devil’s Garden horses. All but one of the seven facilities are private, and, according to AWHC’s FOIA requests, the USFS did not conduct in-person visits to evaluate these facilities. Instead, it just asked the owners to provide photos or drawings in their applications.
Back in July 2020, the MNF delivered a trailer load of horses to a woman in Mayport, PA. During sorting, four horses broke through the corral fencing at her facility because it wasn’t wild horse strong. According to AWHC sources, none of the horses has been captured. The MNF has provided no assistance because, as it stated in an email to AWHC, once sold horses are delivered, the USFS no longer has responsibility for them.
At the very least, if the USFS is going to use private facilities, that incident alone should be a lesson that it needs to conduct rigorous on-the-ground inspections to ensure that the facilities are safe for both the horses and people handling or picking them up.
For a long while, AWHC has been pushing the USFS to complete compliance checks on the horses whom it adopts out of its Double Devil corrals. This year the MNF, along with the Carson National Forest in New Mexico, is finally doing so for horses who were adopted in 2022 and in the future. A compliance check is an inspection of the animal to ensure that he/she is in good health. It takes place about one year after the adoption and prior to the adopter receiving title, or ownership, of the horse/s.
Horses that are sold require no compliance checks because the title transfers immediately.
UPDATE ON DEVIL’S GARDEN HORSES REMOVED IN 2021 ROUNDUP
In 2021, the USFS rounded up and removed 506 horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory. They included 217 stallions, 225 mares, and 64 foals. During the operation, five horses died – a mare was euthanized for a previously broken leg and four others were euthanized due to "chronic long-term health issues" that MNF officials did not identify.
Of the remaining horses, 341 were transferred to the agency’s own Double Devil Corrals and 142 horses were transferred to the BLM corrals in Bruneau, ID, several of whom were stallions and mares in their late teens and mid-twenties.
In July 2022, AWHC filed a second FOIA request for information regarding the disposition of the horses at the Double Devil Corrals; most were from the Fall 2021 roundup on Devil’s Garden, and a few from an operation on the McGavin Peak Wild Horse Territory. Below is a summary of that information as of July 22, 2022.
Adoption, Sales, and Transfers
- 167 horses – Adopted
- 94 horses – Sold, including 3 horses from McGavin Peak and 6 weanlings
- 67 horses – Government to Government Transfer, including 38 weanlings to the Colt Challenge and 29 older horses (2-15 years old) to other USFS corrals, most likely the Bloomfield Corrals in New Mexico
As of January 12, 2023, the Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals FB page posted that four 2021 mares are still available.
In addition to the 5 horses who died during the 2021 operation and 7 horses who died after being transferred to BLM Bruneau Corrals in Utah (as of 11/25/2021), another 5 horses and 11 weanlings died while in holding at the Double Devil Corrals since 10/17/21. They include the following:
- 1 stallion euthanized after being treated for colic on 10/17/21
- 1 six-year-old mare found dead from no known cause on 11/1/21
- 1 two-year-old stallion euthanized for a broken neck when being loaded in the squeeze chute for gelding on 11/1/21
- 1 eleven-year-old mare euthanized for head tilt on 11/22/21
- 1 two-year-old gelding euthanized for leg wound on 4/20/22
- 6 from predator attacks in the holding pens – 2 on 11/7/21; 1 on 11/16/21, 1 on 11/25/21, 2 on 11/27/21, and 1 on 12/2/21 (AWHC’s first FOIA request listed 2)
- 3 from post-castration evisceration on 10/21/21 (AWHC’s first FOIA request listed 4)
- 1 from ruptured rectum on 11/1/21
- 1 unlisted cause of death
AWHC will continue to file FOIA requests to acquire information on the Devil’s Garden wild horses and their mismanagement – information that should be readily available to the American public but the USFS consistently refuses to provide.
And speaking about the USFS’s ongoing lack of transparency and accountability, please check out AWHC’s upcoming blog about that exact topic.
Finally, for your reading pleasure, below are two articles on 1) a genetic study of the Devil’s Garden wild horses and 2) a rare purple delphinium endangered by cattle grazing on the MNF.