The wild horse population living in the U.S. Forest Service's Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory is one of the largest and most significant wild horse populations left in California. The Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory spans more than 300,000 acres (470 square miles) in the Modoc National Forest in remote northeastern California. Wild horses have lived on the lands now known as the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory for over 150 years.
In 2013, the Forest Service finalized a Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory Management Plan. The plan will eliminate more than 25,000 acres of prime wild horse territory and establish a population limit of 402 wild horses within the territory. The new plan is driven by livestock interests. The Forest Service even hired the Farm Bureau, which represents livestock operators who want access to taxpayer-subsidized grazing within the territory, to conduct the environmental analysis of the plan. Not surprisingly, this analysis failed to study the impact of privately-owned cows and sheep who graze in the Devil’s Garden and outnumber wild horses by as much as eight times. It also claimed that the action to carve out the middle section of the territory would have no detrimental impacts.
On March 24, 2014, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, wild horse advocate Carla Bower and Return to Freedom filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service over the management plan. Represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the Los Angeles-based law firm Caldwell Leslie and the D.C. public interest environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, we aim to stop the Forest Service from eliminating thousands of acres of protected wild horse habitat and rounding up as much as 80% of the wild horses living in the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory. The lawsuit asserts that the Forest Service’s decision violates federal animal protection and environmental laws and unlawfully prioritizes ranchers and privately-owned livestock above federally protected wild horses.
On September 30, 2015, United States District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled against AWHPC's motion for summary judgment in our Devil’s Garden lawsuit. AWHPC and our co-plaintiff have appealed the lower court ruling.
In late September/early October 2016, while the Devils Garden case was on appeal, the U.S. Forest Service conducted a round up of wild horses from the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory. Here are the stats for that round up:
- 290 captured
- 68 stallions (age 6+) and one mare released.
- 209 horses shipped to BLM Litchfield holding facility in Susanville.
- 4 deaths at Litchfield (1 mare euthanized and 3 horses perished during "processing")
- 46 mares have been treated with PZP and are awaiting return to the the WHT.
Oral arguments on our appeal took place on Wednesday, January 11th at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. The hearing went exceedingly well, and a national reporter predicts "eventual victory" in our case to defend the Devils Garen wild horses. A decision from the appeals court is expected in the next two to six months.
Read more about this important legal action below. AWHPC is grateful to the Animal Legal Defense Fund which has supported this litigation from the start.
- Wild horses get favorable hearing in battle with California ranchers over sanctuary
- Judges corral arguments over wild horse protections in remote California Country, McClatchey News
- Rachers, Government Find Common Ground in Fight to Restrict Wild Horses, Wall Street Journal
- Lawsuit Filed to Halt Wild Horse Relocations, KRCR
- Group sues US Forest Service over wild horses, Associated Press
- Animal Rights Groups Sue Forest Service to Protect Wild Horses, SF Gate
- Lawsuit Seeks to Save Forest Land for Wild Horses, The Horse
- Coalition Sues of Decimation of Wild Horse Protections, The Dodo
- Wild Horse Advocates Head to Court to Stop U.S. Forest Service Assault Against CA Horses
- Animal Advocates Sue U.S. Forest Service over California Horses, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Court of Appeals:
- Amended Opinion
- Listen: Oral arguments (Jan 11, 2016) - Hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC
- Appellant's Inital Opening Brief
- Appellant's Reply Brief
- Devil's Garden Complaint
- Exhibit A
- Exhibit B
- Motion to Intervene
- Declaration of Byrne
- Declaration of Carey
- Declaration of Curtis
- Vilsack Answer
- Motion for Summary Judgement
- Declaration of Bowers
- Declaration of Roy
- Notice of Appeal