In a remote corner of California, the U.S. Forest Service is set to round up a thousand wild horses and acknowledges that many of them could be sold to distant slaughterhouses.
The first “horse gather” in Modoc National Forest, in northeast California, in more than a dozen years has alarmed activists. The government, says the The American Wild Horse Campaign, is “exploiting a legal loophole” that will result in the slaughter of hundreds of animals.
The roundup is set to begin Oct. 9 and last through the month, and will target 1,000 horses from a herd in the Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory inside the national forest.
The purpose is to reduce a population that is well outside of Forest Service management levels, according to a Forest Service statement.
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“Our territory is supposed to have 206 to 402 animals, we have almost 4,000 horses,” Modoc National Forest Supervisor Amanda McAdams said in a statement.
Those horses enjoy a range of more than 250,000 acres within the national forest.
“It sounds like a lot of acres for 4,000 horses, but there’s not a lot of vegetation and not a lot of water,” McAdams said.
While the U.S. Department of the Interior — which oversees most of America’s wild horses and burros — prohibits selling them to slaughterhouses, the Forest Service is underneath the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has no such restriction.
The Forest Service previously followed Interior’s policy, but “the Trump Administration is starkly changing that policy,” according to the AWHC.
Forest Service spokesman Ken Sandusky said that while the policy is new, this is also the first “horse gather” on public lands in 13 years.
“Basically everything we’re doing is new,” he said.
Sandusky said in a statement that the Forest Service works with a variety of partners to adopt out as many wild horses as possible, but even with that effort the government “cannot be reasonably expected” to adopt them all out.
“The other option is long-term holding, which makes unlimited sale the only fiscally responsible option,” Sandusky said.
While all of the horses will be made available for adoption, after a 30-day period all horses 10 and older — an estimated 300 animals — will be made available for sale without limitations for $1 each, “allowing kill buyers to purchase a truckload of 36 horses once a week until they are gone, with the horses then shipped to Canada for slaughter,” according to the AWHC.
Suzanne Roy, executive director of the AWHC, said in a statement that “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.”
The AWHC called on the Forest Service to make only incremental removals of horses “so that humane placement of horses can be assured.”
The Forest Service position is that the population reduction is necessary to “allow range and riparian ecological conditions to recover, while also supporting wild horse herd health by reducing competition for limited food, water and habitat.”
More information about the roundup, including how horses can be adopted, is available here.
Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler