Wild Horse Education

Left in the dust? part 1 (Devils Garden)

In the “wild hose world” things can get caught in a bit of turbulence and seemingly left in the dust as headlines, politics and social media race from one campaign to another. Many of the emails we are receiving have specifics from one instance confused with another.

These questions seem to primarily focus on new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) policy changes, Devils Garden (USFS) happenings, Triple B (BLM) wild horses, fertility control, the pending spending battle (Appropriations) and the larger political befuddlement creating a thick cloud.

Each one of these subjects is not something that can be addressed in a single paragraph without creating more confusion. In order to address the questions we are breaking each subject into a short article.

In this first piece we will address Devils Garden.

(for fast overview information remember to check out the new web portal at PublicHorses.com)

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Devils Garden Roundup

Devils Garden; 3/24/19

Several articles appeared this week that discuss the next roundup at Devils Garden (DG) managed by United States Forest Service (USFS), for the fall of 2019. Domestic livestock permittees are working to turn out their stock.

This spurred a flurry of frantic emails and outrage hitting our inbox; people are shocked and surprised.

“Things are much better than they were a year ago,” said (Laura) Snell. With two permits being deemed complete non-use for cattle grazing in the Modoc National Forest due to wild horse populations, ranchers in the area have been hit hard by the lack of initiative in previous years. However, Snell was happy to report that conversations are being had between the Forest Service and local permit holders to allow cattle back onto those permits this year. With just over 900 head of horses being removed from the permits, the opportunity for cattle to once again utilize the range is becoming the light at the end of tunnel for many in Modoc County, California.

We understand how some members of the public are confusing this with other areas. The pace of social media and campaigns can be dizzying. This was always the plan, outlined last year, that has a foundation in underlying litigation.

The 2013 “plan” and litigation

The justifications used to create last years roundup are based on what is called a Wild Horse Territory Management Plan (TMP). note: On USFS land they use Wild Horse Territory (WHT), not Herd Management Area (HMA) like the BLM does. However the terms mean the same thing.

In 2013 a TMP was created for Devils Garden (you can read it here).

There have been several rounds of litigation you are probably aware of, as you have seen the posts on social media over the last few years. There is also litigation you may not be aware of.

The first round of  litigation  was to get 23,000 acres (the middle section) added back into the plan. USFS simply removed a section that now only covered a 232,520 acre territory in the 2013 plan, saying it was “in error” that it was included in the first place. That litigation won, as that is not the correct process to change boundary lines, and all 258,000 acres would be included in the forest management plan.

The appeals court decision does not invalidate the AML, which caps the wild horse population at 402.

In 2016 the first roundup of wild horses at Modoc in a decade removed 221 horses.

In October of 2017, a legal action you may not know about occurred when, a proposal to eliminated livestock use in some of the old permitted areas was brought into the courts. The Devil’s Garden Preservation Group,  Wilson Ranches and Green Valley Corp. doing business as MS Ranch sued the Forest Service in Federal Court after the Wilson Ranches grazing allotment for 2018 at Pine Springs was determined as “zero.”

The lawsuit was “stayed” in May 2018,  pending actions by Modoc National Forest to resolve the plaintiff ranchers’ grievances. (In other words, it sat in the wings as a potential threat that had to be dealt with because the court was watching. Pressure was also on Modoc from environmental groups fighting for sage grouse, deer, wolves, and often the damage done by domestic livestock is simply lumped in with wild horses.)

In addition the 2017 litigation set up an ongoing discussion with the parties. This discussion led to finding “public/private” partnerships that funded, ran and controlled, many aspects of the new Double Devil adoption/processing corrals in Alturas. These parties operate under the name “Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Preservation Group.” (the group is a compilation of the Plaintiffs in the ranching complaint above, not a “wild horse advocacy organization.”) We are not sure how much of this was done according to standard procedure for any agreement with a federal agency. It seems funding, how funding was controlled, who controlled it, may be an area that needs a good “hard look.”

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Last year (2018) the roundup of Devils Garden came at a time of year that wrapped it into spending battles, end of year mailers, policy debate. This may have contributed to some of the confusion about all of the active litigation?

The litigation  (that you are emailing us about) was about the “sale without limits” clause of the roundup. When you buy a wild horse “with limitations” you sign a paper saying you are not taking it to slaughter (although rarely enforced, if caught there are penalties). “Without limits” means you can drive the horse right to a kill auction without hassle. However,  anyone selling a horse in CA for the purpose of slaughter is breaking a state law. But that does not stop kill buyers from operating openly, particularly in Southern CA. If the litigation is successful it means that Devils Garden horses can not be sold without the “you can’t take this horse to slaughter” clause in the paperwork in 2019, or any year after that. (BLM has a “sale with limitation” policy that, on paper, affords protection from slaughter. However in practice it does nothing.)

Today; Devils Garden 

If you read the current press on this you will see that, as of now, 932 horses rounded up, 261 were kept  at the Double Devil Corrals in Modoc (about half being pregnant mares). Despite their age, Snell and her colleagues saw a huge response from the public about rehoming these particular horses. There are 58 left at the corral (we do not know the exact count of how many adopted, sold or dead). The representative of the working group, Laura Snell. reports the vast majority were sold for $1 each. (you can still get horses from Double Devil. They have a Facebook page featuring the ones left. many pregnant mares. https://www.facebook.com/doubledevilwildhorsecorrals/


Two of the pregnant mares at Double Devil that WHE volunteers help rehome

653 of the captured wild horses went to the BLM Litchfield corrals in CA under an operating agreement (the typical mode for a USFS roundup). Those horses can be adopted through BLM at Litchfield, even though they are Devils Garden horses removed from USFS land.

USFS is now negotiating domestic livestock turnout with the permittees involved in the “group” at Devils Garden.

They are planning another roundup for fall of 2019. At this time there are no changes to the way they operated in 2018.

Moving forward… land use planning is where advocacy needs to focus, everywhere, not after the process leads to chaos and removal and confusion.  One of the interesting things about land use planning is that it is designed to be revised. Those revisions are supposed to take place every 10 years (often we see it take a lot longer). However, new science, data, mistakes in old planning, can force revisions and amendments.

The 2013 TMP wont be a “forever” document as it is currently written. There are activities not evaluated in the TMP that could create the opening of a revision process. That is where you address things like “AML” with the data you have gathered, preferably over years, and changes in law, policy, etc.

So don’t lose heart. There are still horses out there. They need people to be determined and committed enough to stay with the issues long after the limelight ends. All of our herds do. 

We helped get some of the DG horses a safe landing and documented some of the roundup to address handling and protocol of the operation itself (you can read the run down here).

We are engaged in deep land use, habitat loss and pending roundups on BLM HMAs (mining. livestock, land use planning, oil and gas). There is no shortage of “code red” issues. We will be updating you on those soon.

We hope this answers many of your questions.

The next articles on the “turbulence” of the wild horse world will cover areas that hit our focal points, and areas we have active litigation. 

Turbulence 2, BLM Policy Changes and the Overlap with Appropriations… coming soon. 


A roundup begins long before a chopper flies. We need your help to build a strong frontline.





Categories: Wild Horse Education