While California forests burn, forcing large areas of mandatory evacuations and filling the region’s air with smoke and ash; the wild horses of Devil’s Garden, known to be nature’s fire prevention, are aggressively rounded up yet again.
In an abusive practice that results in severe injuries and death, family bands of heritage wild horses including foals and pregnant mares will be driven by helicopter through steep, volcanic terrain. Contractors for inhumane wild horse and burro roundups make enormous profits, at the expense of the American taxpayer, to the benefit of cattle grazing allotment holders.
The US Forest Service began removal of 500 horses from Modoc National Forest Sept. 12, despite having removed 2,400 from the federally designated Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in helicopter roundups every year since 2018.
The outdated land management plan for this area disregards the science of the ecology of the horses and the actual capacity and forage available. Instead of reserving the Wild Horse Territory forage as required by law per the “Wild Horse Act” of 1971 for “principal use” of the horses, the horses are torn away from their lands and family units and sent to expensive holding facilities so cattle can dominate the landscape, forage and water.
In a letter signed by 38 members of Congress, Representative Ted Lieu of California recently called for the halt of this roundup.
He writes, noting significant welfare concerns: “The agency appears to lack a comprehensive and enforceable animal welfare program to guide the handling and care of animals during helicopter roundups, during transport, and in off-range holding facilities. The agency appears to lack adequate policies and procedures to screen potential adopters and purchasers to ensure the welfare and safety of the horses.”
In a 2021 interview, Modoc National Forest staff described the condition of Devil’s Garden wild horses after being driven by helicopter across steep and rough land, as horrific.
“You can’t believe their condition,” staff said. “We have seen eyes hanging on by a thread and cuts to the bone.”
In addition to these injuries, heat stress and overexertion result in deaths, and the trauma can affect terrorized horses for life.
Livestock are recognized by science as the cause of degradation of range and forest and as the main culprit in desertification, yet the USFS persists in removing our wild horses, a keystone species, from the land to increase cattle grazing. Cattle outnumber wild horses approximately 30:1 on our Western public lands, per the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 2021 study.
Wild horses serve as the first line of defense by reducing fuel loads. One horse eats 5.5 tons of wildfire fuel per year in the form of grasses and bushes that invasive livestock won’t eat, according to long time wild horse observer William Simpson. Multiply by 2,400 wild horses removed, and we are looking at a scenario for many more fires in the Modoc Forest. It goes against science and reason to remove nature’s wildfire prevention in these times of deadly infernos.
Nature’s lawn mowers, wild horses, do not damage the forest: they regenerate the land, cutting plants above the root with their top and lower incisors, spreading seeds up to a 20 mile radius every day. They don’t destroy or dominate water springs and pools. Cattle congregate around water sources, damaging riparian areas. Cattle need an enormous amount of water, a major concern in these times of drought.
A Forest Service spokesperson explained, “The round ups are necessary to issue more livestock grazing contracts.” In other words, not to preserve the “thriving ecological balance” mandated by federal law, but to benefit a few cattle grazing allotment owners, as well as an industry that has grown around these series of incessant roundups on public lands.
Despite related past criminal charges and convictions, the largest contractor, Catoor Livestock Roundup Inc, will receive $610,117 of taxpayer money to conduct this questionable 2022 roundup, after pocketing $692,240 to remove 800-1,000 horses in 2021, per USASpending.Gov.
Wild Horses have shaped our lands and benefited our ecosystems for generations.
Now is not the time to spend taxpayers’ money to remove nature’s wildfire control while National Forests burn.
Having disregarded Congress, citizens, environmental scientists. advocates, and the public interest when it comes to the management of our designated Wild Horse Territories; US Forest Service and the other agencies involved in wild horse and burro management must be investigated, and these corrupt and ill-advised roundups stopped.