(April 7, 2020) While most of the country has ground to halt because of COVID-19, the United States Forest Service (USFS) is continuing its efforts to empty its Double Devil Wild Horse Corral, located in the Modoc National Forest in Alturas, California, by not only selling horses for only $1 but also offering free shipping of them -- courtesy of American taxpayers!
Last fall, the USFS rounded up and removed 499 wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory located within the Modoc National Forest to make room for private livestock grazing. While about 150 horses were sent to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Litchfield corral, 344 were kept at the Double Devil corral for adoption or sales.
The Modoc National Forest declined to confirm the number of horses still at Double Devil, but it’s estimated to be around 100, including older geldings, pregnant mares, and foals.
In its FY 2019 omnibus appropriations package, Congress prohibited the USFS from offering the Devil’s Garden horses for “sale without limitation” on slaughter. Despite this, on January 10, 2020 -- less than four months after the roundup ended -- the agency announced that it would begin selling all horses at Double Devil for $1, albeit with limitations on slaughter. Worse, the Modoc allows a single buyer to purchase up to 24 horses per day and has no national system to vet potential buyers or followup to ensure the welfare of the horses sold.
By contrast, BLM has a national database to track and vet wild horses adopters and purchasers, and a sales policy that restricts the purchase of more than four horses every six months per buyer without explicit authorization from the deputy BLM director.
According to the Modoc National Forest, no matter the number of horses, staff is using its “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.”
Allowing horses to be purchased in bulk -- and so cheaply -- provides no safeguards for their welfare. It’s an open invitation to kill buyers and an avenue to circumvent the Congressional ban that prohibits the USFS from selling them for slaughter.
But it gets even worse. Besides selling the horses for $1, the USFS is paying to transport them across the country with at least $26,000 in federal funding.
That’s right - $1 horses and no-cost transportation!
So far, for example, the Modoc National Forest has paid $6,483 to ship 10 horses to one or two individuals in Arkansas. Additionally, it sent another 15 horses to Montana (where a private trainer will place them in his gentling/training program and sell them for approximately $3,000 each), and it has plans to send another 16 or so horses to a couple in northern Colorado for a “rewilding” project. Modoc officials would not reveal the cost of these transports or the contractors who are providing them.
Because the USFS does not have an agency-wide policy on transporting sold horses, staff at the Modoc National Forest is creating its own and determining who will receive free transportation on an ad hoc or “case by case basis” – thereby setting an alarming precedent.
Modoc officials maintain that they’re finding “happy homes” for the Devil’s Garden horses, who were rounded up and removed from their federally designated habitat on our public lands. However, selling them for $1 and shipping them for free is irresponsible and dangerous.
The Modoc National Forest’s policies regarding wild horse roundups and sales are being driven by local livestock interests who want Devil’s Garden wild horses removed to increase cattle grazing on the public lands where they roam.
Unfortunately, the USFS -- from its national headquarters to the Region 5 office in Vallejo, California, which oversees millions of acres of national forest land in California and Hawaii -- has essentially turned the reins of wild horse management in the Modoc National Forest over to local ranching interests. This has allowed Modoc officials to call the shots on roundups, adoptions, sales, and transportation in the near total absence of transparency and oversight.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the brakes on most BLM activities, including all sales and transport of wild horses. But up at the Double Devil corral on the Modoc National Forest, federally-protected wild horses continue to be sold for $1 a piece. Trailer loads of Devil’s Garden mustangs are being driven across multiple state lines (despite warnings against such travel) to fates unknown, thanks to lack of followup to ensure the welfare of these cherished mustangs.