Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Update

(November 7, 2018) As the U.S. Forest Service enters the last days of its roundup in the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory, the agency is moving closer to this year’s goal of permanently removing 1,000 horses from California’s largest and most historic wild horse herds.

According to Forest Service, the roundup, which began on October 10th, will officially end on, November 8th.  But, in upcoming years, it’s planning on conducting several others to remove 3,000 or more horses in order to reach Appropriate Management level of just 206-402 horses.

Death Count

Although Forest Service press releases make an exact number difficult to determine, it appears that 14 horses have died or been euthanatized,  and 3 mares miscarried during this helicopter capture operation.  This includes:

  • 13 horses euthanized (2 acute and 11 chronic or pre-existing)
  • 1 foal death
  • 3 miscarriages

The Forest Service has not disclosed or described the “pre-existing conditions” or injuries that led them to euthanize these horses.

Adoption and Sales

In two weeks, Friday and Saturday, November 16th and 17th,  the Forest Service will hold an adoption and sales event. As of today, the Double Devil corral will be closed to the public until then so that the horses can be prepared, which includes vaccinating, worming, and gelding of most of the stallions.

Originally, the Forest Service was planning on sending 300 horses ten years and older to the Double Devil corrals on the Modoc Forest, while an estimated 700 horses are being sent to the Bureau of Land Management Litchfield corrals in Susanville where they will be prepared for adoption.  However, most likely because the agency has not rounded up enough older horses, younger horses age 7-8 are also being held at the Double Devil corrals.

For the November event, horse under 10 years old will be available only for adoption; horses over 10 will be available for adoption and sale with limitation. The adoption fee is $125 while the sales price is $25 per horse with an individual allowed to buy up to 24 at a time – which raises ongoing concerns about the horses being sold for slaughter or to rodeos for use as “bucking stock” or for tripping.

After 60 days and beginning around January 10, 2019, horses 10 years or older will be available for “sales without limitations,” meaning that they will be sold for $1 each and up to 36 per week with no restriction on slaughter.

In response to overwhelming outcry from the public and California legislators, the Forest Service pushed back the date when the older horses would become eligible for “sales without limitations.” While the agency maintains that this change in policy “shows we are doing everything we can to make sure gathered horses find homes,” selling horses for $1 each and by the truckload is an open invitation to kill buyers who will then ship the horses to Canada for slaughter.

The Forest Service is still not planning to brand any horses adopted or sold from the Double Devil corrals. Instead, it will microchip them, making it virtually impossible to identify the whereabouts of these horses, including how many will be entering the slaughter pipeline, now or in the future.

Equally disturbing is the fact that Devil’s Garden horses sent to the BLM Litchfield corrals who are not adopted after three tries will become “three-strike” horses, transferred to the Double Devil corrals, and become eligible for sale, potentially “without limitation,” meaning hundreds of these federally protected horses are in danger of being sold for slaughter.

Pigeon Fever Outbreak

Named for the appearance it can give to a horse’s chest, Pigeon Fever is a contagious bacterium (Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis) that lives in the ground and infects animals through wounds or small scrapes in the skin, either by direct contact with contaminated soil or objects, or with the assistance of flies.

Amidst reports of the outbreak of Pigeon Fever at Double Devil corrals, AWHC has asked the Forest Service to halt the roundup/removal of horses from the Devil’s Garden Territory and postpone the adoption/sales event scheduled for November 16th and 17th until a later date in order to prevent the further spread of the disease.  

AWHC is also blasting the Forest Service’s decision to “euthanize” seven horses showing signs of the disease, calling the killings “unjustified and wrong”  because the disease is not fatal, and most horses recover from the infection, even without veterinary care.


Last month, AWHC and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a federal lawsuit to block the Forest Service from selling federally-protected wild horses in California for slaughter.  The legal complaint alleges that the Forest Service broke several federal laws in dramatically altering its long-standing policy and practice of selling horses “with limitations” on slaughter without engaging in required decision-making processes and analysis. Also, the plan to sell horses without limitation on slaughter violates a California law passed two decades ago, which makes the holding and export of horses for slaughter for human consumption a felony in the state.

Unanswered Questions 

In the spirit of transparency and accountability, the Forest Service must provide the following information.

  • Who is determining the age of the horses and deciding which horses are sent to the Double Devil corrals?
  • Are pregnant mares being sent to the Double Devil corrals?  How will the Forest Service determine which mares are pregnant and who will be make that determination?  What will happen to the mares after they give birth and their foals are weaned?
  • Will the Forest Service allow the horses to be sold to rodeos or other buyers as “bucking stock” or for tripping?
  • What are the pre-existing conditions and injuries that warranted the euthanasia of 13 captured horses?
  • Will the Forest Service make younger “three-strike” horses available for “sales without limitations” after they are transferred to the Double Devil corrals?
  • What are the financial agreements for the roundup, holding, and disposition of the Devil’s Garden horses, (including construction and staffing of the Double Devil corrals) between the Forest Service and the Modoc County Farm Bureau, the UC Cooperative Extension, Cattoor Wild Horse Roundups, and the BLM?
  • Why has the Forest Service chosen micro-chipping over branding or other means of identification?
  • What role has Laura Snell, UC Cooperative Extension agent and vehement pro-horse slaughter advocate, played in the removal and disposition of the Devil’s Garden horses? As a state employee, how is she able to advocate for selling horses for slaughter, which will violate California law?

What you can do!