Fact vs. Fiction: Truth About the Devils Garden Wild Horses

FS Claim: The horses are destroying the environment.

Truth: In making this claim, the FS omits any mention of the vastly larger number of livestock authorized in Devils Garden. This link shows forage allocations in the Garden – which includes two new grazing allotments being added now – authorizing thousands of cattle and sheep to graze in the Forest during the spring and summer months. Damage to the range is done over time, and the historic effects of intensive livestock grazing are the foundation of the range issues that Devils Garden is currently experiencing.

FS Claim: The Territory can support just 400 horses.

Truth: The Forest Service can only sustain 400 horses when 5,209 privately owned cow/calf pairs and nearly 3,000 sheep are authorized to graze in the Territory. Modest reductions in livestock grazing could accommodate larger horse population numbers, requiring the removal of fewer horses from the range. (80 percent of Americans want wild horses protected while just 29 percent want to ensure public lands are available for livestock grazing.  In summary: The 400 horse limit has nothing to do with the carrying capacity of the land for wild horses; it is the number of horses that the Forest Service has decided to allow after giving away the lion’s share of public forage to private livestock.

FS Claim: We aren’t going to sell horses for slaughter.

Truth: In this email, the Forest Service acknowledged that they intend to sell older horses without limitation on slaughter by the truckload (36 at a time) for $1 a piece after a period of 30 days (since extended to 60 days. Additionally, the Forest Service has a one-year contract with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to hold younger horses and put them up for adoption. The fate of these any horses unadopted after a year unclear, but then Acting Modoc Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree told Simone Netherlands, AWHC’s national spokesperson and president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management group, that the Forest Service intends to sell these horses as well.  Based on adoption statistics, this means hundreds more horses are at risk of being sold for slaughter.

FS Claim: We may sell horses for slaughter, but it won’t be for human consumption.

Truth: The only market that exists for horse slaughter is for human consumption. The last U.S. horse slaughter plant closed in 2007. U.S. horses unfortunately enough to be sold into the slaughter pipeline are trucked to horse slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico that produce horsemeat for human consumption overseas.

FS Claim: We can’t do anything else besides round up and slaughter horses.

Truth: This situation didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be solved overnight. But there is a humane and publicly-acceptable path for moving forward. This includes:

  • Removing smaller numbers of horses and making removals incremental over time to avoid flooding the adoption/rescue market and to ensure humane placement of horses.
  • Limiting removals to younger, adoptable horses and returning older, unadoptable horses to the range (after vaccinating females with birth control) to live out their lives as they were born, wild and free.
  • Accompanying any removals with a robust fertility control program to humanely reduce population growth rates on the range.
  • Reducing livestock grazing within the territory, temporarily or permanently,  to accommodate larger wild horse population numbers. (Wild horse protection is mandatory, while livestock grazing is a discretionary use of the public lands.)

FS Claim: PZP doesn’t work. We’re rounding up mares with foals who were vaccinated with PZP and released last year, showing it doesn’t work.

Truth: 30 years of research and field experience shows that PZP works, if you use it correctly. The Forest Service rounded up older mares in October 2016 and transported them to the BLM’s Litchfield Holding Corrals in Susanville, where they were vaccinated with fertility control, most likely the PZP 22 vaccine. These horses were held for a year at BLM’s holding corrals and should have been retreated before they were released in October 2017. AWHC offered to purchase vaccine for the Forest Service and dispatch certified darters to inoculate the mares to ensure that they were retreated before release. The Forest Service and BLM declined AWHC’s offer, and did not disclose whether the mares were retreated before release. If they had been properly retreated, then the vaccine would have been 90-97 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.  

If a significant number of released mares are coming in with foals, it raises questions about whether or not the BLM/FS retreated the mares and how they did it. Since the FS is raising this issue, it must fully disclose the following:

  • Were mares retreated before release? If not, why not, given that AWHC offered to pay for the vaccine and even to deliver it to the mares.
  • If they were retreated, what were they retreated with, who did it and what protocol was followed?
  • How were treated mares marked?
  • How many retreated mares have been recaptured, how many had foals and how many remain at large?
  • How old are the foals of retreated mares? (Since horses have an 11 month gestation period, the mares, who were released on October 3, 2017, would have had to have been immediately bred back and would have had their foals sometime in September making them very young if they are being captured in this roundup.)

FS Claim: AWHC is not doing anything but complaining and blocking legitimate adoption efforts.

Truth: AWHC has offered to partner with the Forest Service to implement a pilot fertility control program at no cost to taxpayers. AWHC has offered to facilitate financial compensation to ranchers who agree to retire or reduce use of their grazing permits on the public lands within the territory. And AWHC is actively exploring placement for larger numbers of Devils Garden horses who have been captured and removed from the territory. Finally, AWHC and our Board president were responsible for taking in the largest number of Devils Garden horses captured from the 2016 roundup.

The Forest Service initially expressed interest in working with AWHC but has failed to follow up, focusing instead on the upcoming mass roundup and sale for slaughter plan. AWHC is willing to work with the Forest Service on a humane management plan, including reduction in wild horse population numbers. However, we draw the line at slaughter and will do everything in our power to prevent the Forest Service from selling federally protected wild horses without limitation on slaughter, particularly in the State of California, which has banned horse slaughter for two decades.