Q: What Is Happening?
A: The U.S. Forest Service is in the process of rounding up and removing 1,000 federally-protected wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory, a 300,000-acre public lands area in Alturas, California.
The Forest Service claims that approximately 3,900 wild horses live in the Territory and wants to remove at least 3,500 of them over the next several years.
Q: Why Are the Horses Being Removed?
A: The Forest Service is prioritizing the interests of commercial livestock grazing, which is a discretionary public land use, over its legal mandate to protect wild horses. The Forest Service set a population limit of 206-402 horses on 300,000 acres in Devil’s Garden while authorizing thousands of cattle and sheep to graze on the public lands within the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory.
In the current roundup, the Forest Service is removing 1,000 horses from two grazing allotments in order for ranchers to turn out cattle again on the public lands there.
Q: What Happens to the Horses after They Are Removed?
A: The Forest Service has stated that:
• ~700 younger horses will be sent to a BLM holding facility for adoption.
• ~300 older horses will be sent to a Forest Service temporary holding facility. For the first 60 days after processing, they will be sold “with limitation,” with a limit of 24 horses per buyer per day.
• After 60 days, any older horses not sold will be made available for sale without limitation for $1. Buyers will be allowed to purchase them 36 at a time, on a weekly basis, allowing kill buyers to directly purchase a truckload of horses per week for slaughter until they are all gone.
• The fate of the younger horses who are being sent to the BLM holdin corrals is uncertain. The Forest Service has a one-year agreement with BLM to house the horses and offer them for adoption. This week, Laurence Crabtree, acting Modoc Forest Supervisor, told a member of the AWHC team that unadopted horses would also be sold.
Q: Why Can the FS Sell Horses for Slaughter When the BLM Cannot?
A: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal agency responsible for managing the vast majority of America’s federally protected wild horses and burros, is prohibited under federal law from selling horses and burros “without limitation” for slaughter. The prohibition is in the form of a rider added annually to Interior Appropriations legislation. Since the Forest Service is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is funded through separate appropriations legislation, the rider technically does not apply to horses under Forest Service jurisdiction. However, previous administrations have abided by the BLM policy prohibiting sale for slaughter, recognizing the clear intent of Congress and the overwhelming will of the American people. The Trump Administration’s decision to allow the Forest Service to sell federally protected wild horses “without limitation” marks a radical departure from the policy of previous administrations.
Q: Isn’t It Illegal to Sell Horses for Slaughter in California?
A: California has prohibited the slaughter of horses for human consumption and the export of horses for slaughter for human consumption for two decades. While the Forest Service may try to claim it is exempt from state law, the purchasers of any Devil’s Garden horses offered for sale without restriction are not. Therefore, any individual who buys Devil’s Garden horses for the purpose of selling them for slaughter will be committing a felony. The Forest Service has tried to claim that horses could be sold for slaughter other than for human consumption; however, there is no market for slaughtered horses other than for human consumption. There are no horse slaughter plants operating in the U.S. American horses who end up in the slaughter pipeline are sent to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico that produce horsemeat for human consumption overseas.
Q: What Alternatives Should the Forest Service Pursue for the Devil’s Garden Wild Horses?
A: The roundup and removal could send hundreds of horses into the slaughter pipeline – something that 80 percent of Americans oppose. However, there are more humane options for reducing the number of horses in Devil’s Garden and making it a model for humane management. These options include the following:
- Limit removals of horses to the number who can be adopted or placed into legitimate rescues/sanctuaries and make removals incremental over time;
- Return older, unadoptable horses to the Territory after mares have been vaccinated with PZP birth control;
- Adjust livestock grazing levels in the Territory to accommodate higher wild horse numbers. Wild horse protection is mandatory while livestock grazing is a discretionary use of public lands; and
- Implement a comprehensive PZP fertility control program that is supported by the National Academy of Sciences as being safe, humane, and sustainable.
The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) has been in discussions with the Forest Service to create and implement a pilot PZP fertility control program in Devil’s Garden – at no cost to taxpayers -- that would be a model for humane management of wild horses and to facilitate compensation of livestock permittees for retirement of grazing permits in this federally protected wild horse area. AWHC remains ready, willing, and able to assist the Forest Service in developing a humane, long-term plan for the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory, but cannot support the sale of these historic and federally-protected horses for slaughter.
Q: What Can I Do to Help the Devil's Garden Wild Horses
A: We must generate enough public opposition to convince the Forest Service to protect these horses from mass roundups, removal and sale for slaughter.
- Call the Modoc National Forest today at (530) 233-5811 or (530) 233 8738 to ask them to halt the roundup and guarantee that no Devil’s Garden horses will be sold for slaughter. You can also email them here.
- Help with the efforts to place Devil’s Garden horses in safe homes and save them from slaughter by visiting this Facebook page.