Wild Horse Education

Devil Garden; roundup, adoption, confusion (and now Pigeon Fever)

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(We do know this article is long and contains a lot of information. The article barely scratches the surface of the reality these horses exist in that includes discussions in land use planning on destruction of pinyon juniper forests to create more livestock grazing land. It gets complicated… we know. This article s for those that want more than a catchy headline or a facebook post)

Our observer onsite sends photos, videos, oral comments via phone and written email. Review of documentation, and follow up questions relayed back and forth, are revealing some serious concerns with the operation.

In sum this operation shows a lack of experience and an unwillingness to care enough, about the public or wild horses, to find it. 

Please scroll down to highlighted text for info on Pigeon fever at Double Devil corral.

This is one of the worst capture operations we have ever witnessed as far as clear communication, information and planning is concerned. On almost a daily basis, sometimes hourly basis, the information relayed to onsite observers changes depending on who you are speaking to. A lot could have been done to address many of these issues and minimize all the drama. We understand the pressure, but a lot of it is due to poor planning and execution. There appears to be a serious lack of leadership. 

After each roundup WHE creates a report that compiles statistics that are relevant to creating a data base that covers multiple aspects of capture operation implementation. The three areas that we focus on are agency communication, safety of operations for wild horses, after care. (Yes, we work on range in planning and management. But at a roundup we focus on three areas).

The data bases that we compile are used for multiple purposes; primarily engaging BLM to create revisions to the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) that took years of our relentless litigation to create and include the policy in all capture decisions and contracts.

Devil’s Garden is managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS). The USFS is not under the arm of our public lands management that the BLM is under, the Department of Interior. The USFS is managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, the free roaming horses that live on USFS land are also obligated to be managed under the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRH&B Act). (We understand, for the average person the bizarre frame of jurisdiction of wild horses and public lands is not often understood).

The jurisdiction issues, even though the underlying laws are identical, creates not only distinct government acronyms for everything but an ability to claim a “discretionary process” that is used to bend, twist and change processes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  A simplistic example: at Devils Garden it is a Wild Horse Territory (WHT), not a Herd Management Area (HMA).

As noted above it took years of litigation to get CAWP included into all BLM roundup decisions and contracts. The identical underlying law used in court to create CAWP applies to USFS as it does to BLM. Yet USFS has not included CAWP (by any other acronym) into protocol.

However, they did chose to literally “copy/paste” the language of the BLM “sales disclaimer” that any horse purchased from USFS is not to be sold for slaughter. (copying and pasting the sales policy and not a policy for humane care? Is covering yourself legally against slaughter litigation more important than a motivation that is actually rooted in “caring about the horse?”)

As this operation winds down the necessity for a CAWP type protocol is apparent and we will take the appropriate steps to engage USFS personnel to include it. Just like they copied and pasted the sales language, they can copy and paste CAWP and create a new acronym. In the long run it could save the tax-payer a lot of money paying Department of Justice attorneys to defend against a proven litigation strategy. This is not an “aggressive attack,” these types of things are what the public engagement process of public lands management is supposed to cover; information to make things more efficient and lawful. 

This roundup has generated a massive amount of media coverage; “Forest Service Sends Wild Horses to Slaughter.” 

This operation has also created a pile of litigation that includes 3 different cases, 5 million dollar organizations, all with repetitive claims against the “sale” of these horses. (Adoption and sale are also distinct terms; adopters wait a year to get clear title and title transfers immediately with sale. Adoption costs more than “sale” where horses can go for as little as a dollar.)

USFS is much smaller than BLM; land base managed, personnel and funding. The USDA has a distinct “leadership chain” (many will remember that Brian Klippenstein, executive director of Protect the Harvest, was on this current administrations USDA team?) Devils Garden is not the “Zinke to Brian Steed chain” of BLM, it is distinct. Distinct people, distinct budget, distinct landscape; just like every event involving wild horses.

Under standard procedures for BLM a veterinarian is onsite at trap/holding. Capture can be dangerous (one of the reasons agencies use to keep observers far away and see nothing days in a row). It is a foreseeable circumstance where injury could arise. BLM either uses a local vet under contract or an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarian for trap, holding or onsite adoption event.

USFS says they have no funding for an onsite vet (trap or Double Devil) and have contracted with a local vet that could arrive in 30 minutes.  APHIS is under the jurisdictional arm of USDA. The same jurisdictional arm as USFS. Yet no APHIS vet has been seen anywhere to be found at this operation. No local vet is onsite at trap with a reasonable expectation of need.

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Panicky youngster left in trap after all other wild horses shipped to temporary. Was this the foal that died referenced in the 11/3 USFS report?

TODAY they are stating they killed 7 horses ON THE RECOMMENDATION of an APHIS vet (after telling us there was not one onsite) for symptoms of pigeon fever, one horse that tested positive on October 26 without notifying the public. Pigeon fever is a highly contagious yet usually not a fatal infectious disease.  (We find it interesting that at no time throughout this operation have they posted on their website “APHIS vet.” It only appeared after our inquiry.)

We will be providing you more information soon in a separate article on pigeon fever. The entire facility should be under quarantine and the adoption event postponed.

Our article will be up later today on the wild horses euthanized (7 for pigeon fever, 2 for “preexisting,” two for acute injuries including a foal. 

(Link to article on Pigeon Fever https://wildhorseeducation.org/2018/11/04/breaking-pigeon-fever-at-devils-garden-7-wildhorses-killed/

The USFS did find funding to create permanent corrals at Devils Garden with the intention of using them to hold events after future roundups at Devils Garden. This facility, Double Devil, is now essentially the equivalent of a “short term facility;” animals processed for adoption or sale. These are not “temporary corrals” that involve the roundup contractor, this is distinct and solely under USFS. These corrals will geld, mark and process adopters. WE HOPE these corrals vaccinate and draw a Coggins before adopting out horses. (We did ask that question and did not get a simple “yes or no” and different answers from different people.)

A big, and avoidable, part of the controversy is how USFS decided to mark captured wild horses. (The wild horse is the only animal in our nation legally defined by the land it stands on, not what it is biologically. The free roaming horses at Devils Garden are “wild” under law. So ignore the debates of “wild v feral” as that has nothing to do with the immediate need to understand existing law, the law that must be abided by right now.)

Processing for adoption and sale requires marking for tracking. USFS is using a “pit tag” like Sheldon refuge under the United States Fish and Wildlife jurisdiction that is DOI but not under the confines of the WFRH&B Act. Instead of using a visible marking system like BLM that is mandated under the WFRH&B Act, USFS has chosen an invisible to the eye system making any horse that shows up in a kill buyer pen virtually impossible to detect. Using detectable brands might have helped with public fears? (forethought, what a crazy concept.)

Most of the time we see Forest Service operate in some type of agreement with BLM (that has the infrastructure and more complete protocols, more experience). In the case of Devils Garden (that includes about 8000 acres of BLM land) USFS is running the roundup portion completely “on their own.” Devils Garden does not have the BLM equivalent of a “Wild Horse and Burro Specialist.” They have the person that works with the ten grazing permittees calling the shots at this operation; the same person talking about clearing out the trees for increased grazing, creating and maintaining stock ponds for livestock, etc is the same person “on the ground for the horses.”

However, USFS did enter into a post removal operation agreement with BLM. USFS has told public, media and has posted on the website that horses captured that are under 10 years of age are being shipped to the BLM Litchfield facility to be processed for adoption. The “over 10” are remaining at the Double Devil corrals for the event.

From website:

The Modoc National Forest is looking for homes for older horses that will be held at the new Double Devil Corrals in Alturas, California. Horses ages 10 and older will be available through adoption or sale with limitations in November of this year. Please fill out the appropriate form below, scan and email it to modoc_info@fs.fed.us. Or mail to Attn: Double Devil adoptions and sales, 225 W. 8 St. Alturas, CA 96101. 

Gathered horses younger than 10 will be held at the BLM Litchfield Corrals. More information on how to adopt younger Devil’s Garden wild horses from the BLM is available at the links below, by emailing wildhorse@blm.gov or by calling 866-468-7826

More controversy in that “we create things as we want it, when we want it” management has arisen. When this hits the public sphere we expect headlines like “Forest Service Changes Plans to Kelp Kill Buyer Buddies.”


Tour of Double Devil by USFS personnel 11/3

It appears that original surveys of the area overestimated the number of older horses that would be captured.  Only about 150 of the 783 captured as of 11/3 are over 10 years old.

It appears that USFS is now lowering the age of the wild horses that will be retained at the facility for sale. We are informed that the age will now be lowered to about 6 or 7 years old. Any horses captured from 6-10, that could have the added protections of adoption v sales after shipping to the BLM Litchfield facility under the current agreement between BLM and USFS. Why keep more horses at the Double Devil corral? It is already chaos and “when do I bring my trailer for pickup?” is still not a question addressed adequately.  It seems this is being made up “as they go.”

What we also expect is a rather arbitrary system of “who gets what horse under which process.” In other words if I am part of a certain social circle and get ten geldings I will get them “sale.” If I represent an advocacy org I will be obligated to get an identical horse under the more complex and expensive adoption process. All signs point to this becoming a reality. 

The event at Double Devil on the 16 and 17 is likely to be a bit dramatic. We expect multiple news outlets to arrive (we are getting calls and are unlikely to attend in any official capacity). There will be people coming with and without trailers trying to get a horse (as multiple messages are delivered to different sets of “public.) We do not even know if these horses will have a Coggins (if they do not they can not leave California) because you can not get a straight answer from someone or get different answers from each person you ask.

In sum this operation shows a lack of experience and an unwillingness to care enough, about the public or wild horses, to find it. This operation is really “amateur hour.”


A roundup begins long before a helicopter flies. Help us build a strong frontline to fight for them and their habitat.





Categories: Wild Horse Education