The American Wild Horse Campaign is calling foul on a plan by the U.S. Forest Service to round up 1,000 federally-protected wild horses from the Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory in the Modoc National Forest in California and sell hundreds of the captured horses into the slaughter pipeline.
The roundup is scheduled to start on October 9. For years, Congress has banned the sale of federally-protected wild horses and burros for commercial slaughter, but the Forest Service is exploiting a legal loophole to sell an estimated 300 wild horses “without restriction,” allowing kill buyers to purchase a truckload of 36 horses once a week until they are gone.
The kill buyers will then ship the horses to Canada, where they will be sold to slaughter plants to produce horse meat for foreign consumption.
“It’s a sad irony that the first federally protected wild horses in decades to be purposefully sold by the government for slaughter will come from California – a state where the cruel practice of horse slaughter has been banned since the 1990’s,” said Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.
“The American public and Californians specifically overwhelmingly support protecting wild horses on our public lands and oppose slaughtering them,” Roy continued. “While we understand the Forest Service’s desire to reduce the Devils Garden wild horse population, the agency must do so in a humane and socially acceptable manner.
The current plan will set a horrific precedent that violates the intent of Congress, the spirit of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and the overwhelming will of Californians and other Americans.”
According to AWHC, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – the federal agency that manages the majority of America’s wild horses and burros – is prohibited via a rider in the annual Interior appropriations legislation from selling these iconic animals for slaughter. But the Forest Service, which manages a small number of federally-protected wild horses, is not technically bound by that prohibition as a division of the USDA funded by Agriculture appropriations legislation.
However, previous Administrations have honored Congressional intent by following BLM policy regarding sale of wild horses for slaughter. The Trump Administration is starkly changing that policy.
The Devils Garden wild horse population is the largest and most significant herd in California. The horses live on 233,000 acres of federally-designated habitat within the Modoc National Forest. As early as October 9, the Forest Service will commence a helicopter roundup there.
The Service intends to send an estimated 700 younger captured mustangs to the BLM’s Litchfield holding corrals near Susanville for adoption, but an estimated 300 older horses (age 10 and over) will be sent to a temporary holding facility partially funded and managed by the Modoc County Farm Bureau and the UC Cooperative Extension, which represent ranchers who hold permits to graze livestock on the public lands that are designated as habitat for the Devils Garden horses.
Both organizations support selling "excess" wild horses for slaughter and seek a drastic reduction in the wild horse population in order to increase commercial cattle grazing in the Forest.
The Forest Service will allow just 30 days after the horses are processed for legitimate rescues and adopters to take them. After that time, they will be made available for sale without limitation for slaughter.
AWHC is urging the Forest Service to reduce the wild horse population humanely over time by making removals incremental so that humane placement of horses can be assured. The agency must also accompany removals with a robust PZP program in order to reduce population growth rates in the Territory and reduce the number of horses that will be removed in the future from the Garden.
Finally, the Forest Service has the legal authority to reduce livestock grazing in the Forest to accommodate a larger horse population while numbers are gradually reduced over time.
AWHC has offered to work with the Forest Service to implement a pilot PZP program in the Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory, and believes that the area can be a model for humane management, with California once again leading the way on an issue of national importance.
But the current plan that leaves hundreds of California wild horses facing brutal commercial slaughter jeopardizes the opportunity to create a model program for humane, sustainable and socially acceptable wild horse management, AWHC said.
Press release provided by American Wild Horse Campaign