Wild Horse Education

California (BLM in context and Devils Garden adoptions)



copyright Laura Leigh

Twin Peaks (Leigh)

note from the dashboard, LLeigh (scroll down for California, in context section)


Over the last couple of weeks WHE has logged a lot of miles. My own odometer ticked off over 2000. As the snows melt, and grasses begin their growing cycles, we map a baseline for several Herd Management Areas (HMAs). Each year we have to prioritize which areas to map; funding, longevity, and the probability that the data will be required to address multiple government planning actions.

On Monday I took time to speak to a group of people in Santa Rosa. I very rarely leave the work to go do “in person” talks with the public. This has been particularly true the last two years.

As I pulled in to our public mail hub, there were 6 more EAs and EISs waiting for me. While we are running the range grabbing data we are filing comments on projects that will have long and lasting impact to habitat.

Wild horses are the only animal in our country legally defined by the land it stands, not what it is biologically. The land they stand is what wild horses are all about; land management agencies (like BLM), and the physical space they occupy, sets the frame of advocacy.

Addressing the group, in the “question and answer” portion of the talk, it became obvious to me that there are many subjects I need to add to the “write an in-depth article” list. Often I learn a lot about the public at these “meet and greets.”

  • Wild horses are public lands management, adoption and sanctuary are after failure.
  • Fertility control is not management, it’s a tool of management.
  • Open range is a myth. An HMA may have a million acres, but those acres are shared with mining, livestock, off road trail races, etc. Many of these fence off large swaths of HMA and the wild horses do not have access (or free access).
  • Jurisdiction is extremely important because the laws change from area to area. BLM manages more horses than all other jurisdictions combined. When we talk “wild horses” we are not talking tribal or state jurisdictions.
  • State-by-state focal points.

An area that deserves some discussion is distribution of wild horses. Wild horses are part of public lands. Where we have more public land, we have more wild horses. “You spend most of your time in Nevada,” (more than half of our nations wild horses live in NV). Some perspective on where our wild horses live:

  • Colorado has 4 HMAs. Sand Wash Basin may be the most well known, but all 4 have a following and a relatively greater ease of access than many in states like NV. (HMAs in Colorado, BLM info page HERE)
  • Idaho has 6 HMAs. The one the public is most aware of is Challis. (HMAs in Idaho, BLM info page HERE)
  • Utah has 19 HMAs. The most well know is probably Onaqui. (Utah HMAs, BLM info page HERE)
  • Nevada has 83 HMAs. Most of the HMAs in NV you hear about when there is a roundup , the social media flurry, and then they are “out of the public eye.” (Nevada HMAs, BLM info page HERE)

Wild horses have their program wide issues. Program wide issues are addressed in the “write your Congressman” fashion because programmatic changes are legislative changes.

Management of wild horses is a site specific advocacy done in land management. Understanding the issues, gathering the data, processing and engaging protocols is the beginning. Litigation is a site by site process to each and every proposed action. It is the “mother lode” of how to protect our herds.

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Devils Garden youngsters at the BLM Litchfield corrals; branded, logged and vaccinated and ready for adoption

California, in context

California manages 21 HMAs. “Manages” is the word used for BLM CA because 7 are entirely located in the state of Nevada and 3 are partially located in the state of Nevada. 

(The real estate for 90 HMAs is in NV. More than all other states combined. We know it can get confusing. But many “California” wild horses are not state residents.)


Northern NV CA managed HMAs

As I left CA I stopped at Litchfield to see some Devils Garden horses and then scooted into NV. However the wild horses I was documenting are in NV, but managed by CA. (Hope that makes sense.) It was part of the reason for writing this piece.

Many people are asking about the roundup schedule. The end of fiscal year 2019 will be announced around mid June and the schedule will run until October. In October we will see the beginning of the fiscal year 2020 schedule begin, and we expect it to be larger than the ones we saw from 2009-2013, with as many as 20,000 targeted. (more info HERE)

In CA it is probable that in 2020 we will see movement by federal agencies to begin removals in Twin Peaks, Bitner, Wall, High Rock and Fox Hog.

Devils Garden (DG) is a great example of the “jurisdiction” conversation. On the BLM HMA map for California you will see Devils Garden. Devils Garden is not managed by BLM. DG is managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS). In USFS “speak” this is a Wild Horse Territory (WHT) and is not referenced as an HMA. The territory consists of 300,000 acres of Forest Service land and 8,300 acres of BLM land. (you can check out the status of the roundup being planned for fall of 2019 at the Garden HERE).

There are a few, older, wild horses left at the Double Devil corrals and many are being sold for $1. each. You can see their Facebook updates HERE.)

The $1. sale still has people confused. When a wild horse is sold title transfers. Once title transfers a wild horse is no longer “wild” under law and covered under the same laws as a domestic.

In California there are current state laws that prohibit sales to slaughter. The law itself is currently being reworded.

The reason the law fails is because of lack of enforcement and funding for enforcement. Any new law needs to come with a mandatory funding package (and it does not).

We all need to make sure the bill comes with funding. If you live in CA you can call your state legislators. (you can read a markup of the bill and find your CA state legislator: more info here)

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Above is a slideshow of some of the Devils Garden youngsters ready for adoption at the Litchfield corrals (contact HERE)

A lot of rumors fueled by social media have plagued the Devils Garden horses. There is no intention to ship any of the horses back to the corrals in Alturas from Litchfield. During the roundup Alan Shepherd from BLM confirmed this to us. At the corral this week the facility manager re-confirmed that the DG horses are in the BLM pipeline to stay.

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During my fast visit adopters were picking out 2 geldings to load and take home.

At the Litchfield corrals the younger Devils Garden (under 8) wild horses are mixed with a handful from the Triple B roundup in NV.  (more info on Triple B HERE)

We were told that adoptions are going well and that the facility is almost booked up for the next month with prospective adopters looking for the right horse to take home.

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Geldings from 2-5 years old were sorted, sorted again. The smaller group ran around in the small pen. Two chosen, named and loaded.


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Heading to an adoptive home.

Adoption is after managing on the range fails. The Garden needs a real plan to distribute, improve waters, fertility control,  protecting (and identifying) critical horse habitat, and manage.

Until we see actual range management as a focal point for federal land management agencies we will see removal (and sterilization) coming fast in the decades old tool box where agencies use one tool, remove.

The tool box needs no new tools, managers just need to stop grabbing only one.

The next roundup at Devils Garden is slated for Sept or October 2019.

more soon. 


A roundup begins long before a chopper flies. Help us build a strong frontline.When the chopper flies? Help us be there to keep our work against inhumane treatment running. WHE is the only org in history to take abuse into a courtroom, win over and over, and start a real policy for humane handling.

Categories: Wild Horse Education

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