Report: Forest Service Plans to Remove 500 More Devil’s Garden Wild Horses

July 20, 2023: During its “2023 Motorized Equipment Hearing” held on Monday, July 17th, the US Forest Service (Forest Service) announced that it would be conducting another helicopter roundup that will target 500 Devil’s Garden horses this fall.  

With this operation, the Forest Service is on track to removing 3,500 wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory (Territory) since 2016.  The Territory, comprised of 258,000 acres, is located in the Modoc National Forest in northeast California.  

The roundup and removal is scheduled to begin in early to mid-September and last between 30 and 35 days.  The Forest Service did not announce the contractor. 

The Forest Service has determined that the Appropriate Management Level for the Devil’s Garden herd is between 206 and 402 horses.  

Two participants – both AWHC staff members -- attended the virtual meeting and submitted comments opposing the roundup and removal of these federally-protected wild horses.

They provided the following numbers to show that the roundup and removals are an ineffective management tool:

  • In 2016, the spring census estimated that there were 2,246 adult horses on the Territory. This year’s spring census estimated that there are 1,339 adult horses.  In the past 7 years, despite removing 3,001 horses, the population of this historic herd has only decreased by 907 horses.
  • In 2020, the Forest Service estimated that there were 1,663 adult horses, and the 2021 spring census estimated that there were 1,926 adult horses on the Territory.  Therefore, despite removing 506 horses in the fall of 2020, the number of horses increased by 263 between 2020 and 2021.  
  • In 2022, the spring census estimated that there were 1,205 adult horses, and as mentioned, this year’s spring census estimated that there are 1,339 adult horses on the Territory.  Therefore,  despite removing 389 horses last fall, the number of horses increased by 134 horses between 2022 and 2023.

Important, too, is that more than one hundred horses and foals have died as a result of these operations. 

In contrast,  AWHC noted that our PZP fertility control program on the Virginia Range in Nevada  is successfully reducing the population of that wild horse herd – humanely and sustainably.  

This summer, the Forest Service is releasing a Draft EA that includes an analysis of the excluded 23,000-acre Middle Section of the Territory and an unspecified fertility control program.

AWHC staff emphasized that this was an opportune time for the Forest Service to change course.  We respectfully requested that the agency to

  • Impose a moratorium on all removals of Devil’s Garden wild horses from the Territory;
  • Manage the remaining horses in the wild with a PZP fertility control program and reallocation of forage resources to make the balance between horses and livestock more equitable;
  • Implement range land improvements on the Territory; and
  • If any removals are necessary, relocate captured wild horses to other Active Territories or to Inactive Territories that have been reevaluated and determined to once again be able to support wild herds.