Sale of Devil’s Garden horses for $1 looms ahead but slaughter off the table

Mary Koncel, Program Specialist

(December 30, 2019) Less than four months after the controversial roundup of almost 500 horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in northeastern California ended, the United States Forest Service (USFS) announced that all remaining horses at its Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals will soon be sold for $1 with limitations.  Fortunately, Congress has stepped up and prevented them from being sold for slaughter. 

Of the 499 horses removed in the fall, 350 were sent to the USFS’s Double Devil Corrals in Altura, CA.  Another 140 or so were shipped the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Litchfield Corrals in Litchfield, CA.

While the USFS was selling horses 10 years and older – including mare/foal pairs – for $25, younger horses were available for adoption for $125.   Now, however, all horses remaining at the corrals are available for sale with limitations for $25 each until January 9th, 2020 and for just $1 each beginning January 10th, 2020.  They range in age from weanlings to 20-year-olds.

Following USFS policy, younger horses became “three-strikes horses” after three unsuccessful adoption attempts that included adoption events held at the Double Devil Corrals on November 2nd and December 7th as well as onsite selection appointments between October 1st and November 15th and listing on the Double Devil Wild Horse Online Corrals.

Last year, the USFS pushed to sell to Devil’s Garden horses without limitation on slaughter, a move which represented a radical departure from its previous position.  Last week, though, Congress passed a  “minibus” spending bill for Fiscal Year 2020 that prohibits the agency from destroying any healthy wild horses and burros under its management or selling them for slaughter.  Although Congress prohibits the BLM from lethal management of wild herds, the ban did not extend to the USFS.

In 2018, AWHC, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, also filed a lawsuit to block the USFS from moving ahead with its plan to sell federally-protected wild horses for slaughter.

The USFS Purchase Request, which immediately transfers ownership, requires buyers to agree not to sell the horses for commercial use --or slaughter -- and includes a notice that California Penal Code Section 598 prohibits the sale of horses for human consumption, which is a felony in the state.  

While the BLM limits the number of horses or burros who can be sold to one person to four every six months – and more than four with special permission, the USFS has no such restrictions  However, according to a statement from Modoc Forest Service personnel, we “have a very hands-on approval process and are selling horses only to candidates vetted to the best of our capacity for their abilities and facilities to care for the number of horses requested.”

That’s all well and good. But, as rescues and sanctuaries – or, for that matter, any informed member of the equine community – knows, selling a horse (or burro) for $1 raises multiple red flags.  And despite the Modoc Forest Service’s attempts to screen buyers and the Congressional prohibition on the USFS selling horses for slaughter, the possibility of them slipping through the cracks and ending up in a kill pen before being shipped to Canada or Mexico is a reality.

As of December 12th, the Modoc Forest Service has reported that 60 horses have been adopted, and 31 sold with limitations.  One foal was born at Double Devil, and at least four horses have died since arriving at the corrals. Also, the Modoc Forest Service has improved the corrals by expanding them and installing sun/rain overhangs along with heated water troughs.  But, except for hay bales around the weanling and mare/foal pens, none of the pens have shelters to provide protection from the winter’s frigid temperatures or wind.

To view Devil’s Garden horses available for sale, visit the Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals.  Placement for “special needs” horses and horses 15 years and older is especially needed.

AWHC has filed a FOIA request on the disposition of the Devil’s Garden horses at the BLM Litchfield corrals as well as USFS’s Double Devil Corrals. We’ll keep you updated.