By Mary Koncel, Special Projects Coordinator
(August 7, 2023) The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) recently announced that this year’s roundup and removal of 500 wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory (Territory) is scheduled to start on September 4, 2023.
According to a press release issued by the Modoc National Forest (MNF), the goal of this sixth operation in six years is “to continue moving toward the appropriate management level of 206-402 wild horses as prescribed by the 2013 Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory Management Plan.”
The 258,000-acre Territory, on the MNF in northeast California, is comprised mostly of federal land but also some Tribal, State, and private land.
The 2023 roundup and removal will likely occur around the same time that the USFS said it would release a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) that includes an analysis of an unspecified fertility control program and the 23,000-acre Middle Section, which could increase the appropriate management level for wild horses on the Territory. The Middle Section was excluded in the 2013 Wild Horse Territory Management Plan, and AWHC successfully sued to have it reinstated as part of the Territory in 2017.
The $599,500 contract for the helicopter and bait trap operation was awarded to Cattoor Livestock Roundup, Inc. Between 2020 and 2022, Cattoor was awarded three other contracts for roundups totaling $1,896,301 as well as over $100,000 in contracts to transport captured Devil’s Garden horses to distribution sites across the country.
Based on Freedom of Information Act records, AWHC estimates that the cost of each roundup and removal, which includes not only the contractor but also USFS staffing and care of the captured horses at the agency’s Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals in Alturas, CA , exceeds $1 million.
Since 2016, 3,001 wild horses have been removed from the Territory. After this year’s operation, that number could rise to 3,500 horses.
This spring’s population census estimated that there were 1,339 adult horses on and around the Territory. The 2022 spring census estimated that there were 1,205 adult horses. Therefore, despite removing 389 horses in last fall’s roundup, the number of horses increased by 134 horses between 2022 and 2023.
The MNF press release also stated that “The Modoc National Forest remains committed to managing wild free-roaming horses in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple-use relationship on public lands.”
Currently, privately-owned livestock that include about 3,000 cow/calf pairs and 2,000 sheep are permitted to graze on the Territory for four to six months, spring through fall.
The 2013 Wild Horse Territory Management Plan was developed through a partnership with the MNF and the Modoc County Farm Bureau.
Public observation of the roundup and removal will be offered seven days a week. However, “due to the confined nature of the viewing blinds,” the USFS is limiting the number of observers to six a day.
To make reservations for public observation, email (email@example.com) or call (530 -233-8738) the MNF and include your name, phone number, requested viewing dates, and the number of viewers in your party.
AWHC representatives will be on site to report on the 2023 operation.