Return to Freedom Enlisting Adopters for California Wild Horses at Risk of Slaughter
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation is responding to an outpouring of interest in protecting the last vestiges of California’s largest wild horse herd from slaughter.
The U.S. Forest Service is conducting a helicopter roundup of 1,000 horses at the Devils Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory at Modoc National Forest near Alturas, Calif. Wild horses are being separated from their family bands and herds and sorted by age and gender, with the older horses – including pregnant mares – in greatest jeopardy of being sold to kill buyers who will transport them to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.
Return to Freedom, a Lompoc, Calif.-based national wild horses and burro advocacy organization, is compiling a list of landowners willing to provide a safe home for small or large numbers of wild horses, provide transportation, or make donations to support rescue efforts should the Forest Service follow through with its irresponsible plan to sell an estimated 300 of the captured wild horses that are ages 10-older, on the cheap and without restriction, starting in January.
“Capturing wild horses just before the onset of winter increases the risk to the most vulnerable animals,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom, which operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary. “Having survived being chased over extremely rocky ground by a helicopter, the oldest horses will now be placed in unsheltered holding corrals in harsh weather at a time when feed is at its most expensive. Placing hundreds of horses in good homes in just 60 days is even more difficult at this time of year.”
Return to Freedom has joined with other wild horse advocates, the public, and federal and state lawmakers to urge the Forest Service to respect the overwhelming public opposition to horse slaughter and abandon its sale plans that open the door to the slaughter pipeline.
Past polls have found about 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter. In 1998, Californians passed a ballot measure, Prop. 6, barring horse slaughter in the state, sale of horse meat for human consumption and transportation of horses out of the state for purposes of slaughter.
The Forest Service is transporting captured wild horses ages to corrals on Forest Service lands, where they will be put up for sale with limitation for 60 days after being made ready for placement, or no earlier than Jan. 10. The agency says that it will sell horses with limitations including prohibiting the purchase of wild horses for human consumption as well as providing adequate transportation and adequate accommodations.
After that 60-day period, however, the Forest Service plans to sell remaining wild horses — without restrictions — for as little as $1 apiece.
Captured wild horses ages 9-under are being transported to Bureau of Land Management corrals in Susanville, Calif., where they will be offered for adoption. Forest Service officials have said that arrangements have been made for BLM to keep captured wild horses there for one year, but no longer, possibly placing them in jeopardy of eventually being sold to slaughter without restrictions where they will easily end up in the slaughter pipeline as well.
The Forest Service is attempting to rid itself of the more than a fourth of the wild horses in California’s last large herd by taking advantage of the fact that Congress, in its Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations package, specifically prohibited the sale without limitation of wild horses and burros by the BLM but not by the Forest Service.
“The Forest Service created this situation by not investing in safe, proven and humane fertility control for mares,” DeMayo said. “The very least the agency could do is reduce the number of horses they plan to roundup this year, stagger removals to better work with California’s horse community to find homes for captured horses, and begin an aggressive fertility control program at Devils Garden.
“In 2016, the Forest Service did create a placement committee for the Devils Garden wild horses that included advocates, ranchers, and community members. Rushing ahead with this large-scale roundup, implementing sales without restrictions undermines that effort and is a slap in the face of that committee. The agency is squandering the opportunity for collaboration and turning its back on one of California’s last herds when they could have begun a fertility control program years ago.”
Return to Freedom urges the public and lawmakers to continue pressuring the agency to stop this disastrous plan. At the same time, wild horse advocates and the horse-loving public should begin preparing to help with solutions.
Those who believe they can provide a good home to two or more wild horses, especially those ages 10-older, offer transportation for horses, or who would like to donate to support the rescue effort are asked to go to https://returntofreedom.org/
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation (RTF) is a national nonprofit dedicated to wild horse preservation through sanctuary, education and conservation, and also operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, California.