Oct 11, 2018, 8:49 PM ET

Animal activists outraged at Forest Service handling of wild horses

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Animal activists and horse lovers are criticizing the U.S. Forest Service’s plan to round up 1,000 wild horses in northern California this month, saying the animals could wind up being sold to slaughterhouses.

The Forest Service cites a 2013 management plan that says the area's approximately 4,000 horses are causing significant damage to the ecosystem and consequently to the herds themselves. According to that report, the 258,000-acre range can only viably sustain 402 horses, which can be challenging for wild horses competing for food, water and habitat.

"We put a lot of work into looking into the damage, and when you have far too many animals than the land can carry, it results in the native plants being eliminated and [non-native] plants coming into the preserved area. That’s a significant change in the ecosystem," Laurence Crabtree, the acting forest supervisor for the Modac National Forest, told ABC News. "The horses coming into the corrals [that we’re rounding up] are not in great shape. They’re showing signs of not enough food for them."

But while no injuries or deaths were reported for the 66 horses who were gathered in the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory on the first day of the roundup Wednesday, critics charge that it’s only a matter of time before the wild animals are sold for slaughter.

"Horses that can’t be placed through adoption, or can’t be sold with limitations will be made available for sale without limitation after a 30-day period. … There are no stipulations on the buyer in an unlimited sale," according to a Forest Service statement provided to ABC News.

PHOTO: Wild horses from the Modac National Forest are seen in the U.S. Forest Services new holding corrals after being rounded up on Wednesday.American Wild Horse Campaign
Wild horses from the Modac National Forest are seen in the U.S. Forest Service's new holding corrals after being rounded up on Wednesday.

And while the Forest Service says there are conditions that the horses cannot be used for human consumption, these horses can still be sold to a slaughterhouse. But the American Wild Horse Campaign told ABC News that since there are no slaughterhouses for horses in the U.S., a middle man called a "kill buyer" would likely purchase these animals and ship them off for slaughter to Canada or Mexico, where human consumption is legal.

"The only market for horses for slaughter is for human slaughter," explained AWHC Executive Director Suzanne Roy.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote the U.S. Forest Service a letter on Tuesday, expressing her concern that these horses may end up in slaughterhouses and demanding that the acting director of the federal agency "halt any sales of wild horses" until the director responded to her questions.

"Can the Forest Service certify that no horses that are sold will be transferred to third-party buyers who may end up slaughtering animals for commercial use?" Feinstein asked in the letter.

The Forest Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Feinstein letter.

The AWHC also suggested that there may be another reason these horses are being removed.

"When [the Forest Service] talks about environmental damage, they don’t mention one word about cattle. The reality is they’re removing 1,000 horses from two grazing allotments, where ranchers hold permits to graze their private livestock on public lands," Roy told ABC News.

"We think it’s wrong to round up and remove 1,000 federally protected wild horses," so that private cattle can use these public lands, Roy said .

PHOTO: Wild horses from the Modac National Forest are seen in the U.S. Forest Services new holding corrals after being rounded up on Wednesday.American Wild Horse Campaign
Wild horses from the Modac National Forest are seen in the U.S. Forest Service's new holding corrals after being rounded up on Wednesday.

Currently, horse populations in the area increase by about 20 percent a year. According to a 2013 National Academy of Sciences report, the management practices — in this case by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management — may actually be facilitating these population growth increases.

According to the study, when the animals suddenly have more access and less competition for food, their biological response encourages them to breed more.

The Forest Service maintains that despite the "challenging situation," it’s doing everything it can to ensure every single horse is adopted.

"The people in this forest are really committed to these horses and everyone here is working as hard as they can to find a good home for these horses," explained Crabtree, adding that the agency also relies on a thorough adoption process to ensure each horse will be treated humanely in its new home.

PHOTO: A helicopter contracted by the U.S. Forest Service is seen flying while rounding up wild horses from the Modac National Forest on Wednesday.American Wild Horse Campaign
A helicopter contracted by the U.S. Forest Service is seen flying while rounding up wild horses from the Modac National Forest on Wednesday.

The AWHC disagreed though, insisting that the Forest Service can achieve the same outcome of a smaller population, by removing smaller amounts of horses over a longer period of time, allowing for safer, more consitent placement.

"You’re literally just flooding the market for adoption and you’re just not going to find good homes for all these horses." Roy said.

The Forest Service said it's looking at the possibility of birth control for these horses in the future, but it first needs to reduce the population before it can make birth control a feasible option.

"I mean, that’s a lot of land… so there’s some practicality issues involved," Crabtree said.

The AWHC strongly disagreed with this assessment though, telling ABC News any removal needs to be accompanied by a robust fertility control program. The wild horse advocacy group said it offered to fund and implement a pilot program using a PZP birth control vaccine that can be delivered remotely by dart or bait trapping the horses. The vaccine creates an immune response that prevents pregnancy, but does not affect their natural behavior, according to the AWHC.

PHOTO: Wild horses from the Modac National Forest are seen in the U.S. Forest Services new holding corrals after being rounded up on Wednesday.American Wild Horse Campaign
Wild horses from the Modac National Forest are seen in the U.S. Forest Service's new holding corrals after being rounded up on Wednesday.

Prior to 2018, the Forest Service rounded up several hundred wild horses in the region two years ago, and while 150 were adopted, many of them were ultimately returned to the wild. This year though, the agency won’t be releasing horses back to their natural habitats.

"We still have too many horses… so the plan is once a year," to conduct drives like this, said Crabtree. "We will stick with this plan until we can get these horses down to the level the land can sustain."

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  • lisa blanck

    it's all about who benefits monetarily. When the cattle barons and the land developers are running the FWS or the Forest Service, as they are now, and profiting off of their revised "regulations", wild animals and native species die. It's that simple. Stop electing azzes.

  • freespeechfan

    There wouldn't be "too many horses" if ranchers weren't the ones holding the puppet strings. They demand cheap grazing on public lands, our lands. It isn't about horses at all. It's about cattle. Think about that the next time you bite into dead cow. Just one more reason to stop subsidizing the numerous damages caused by the livestock industry.

  • Jane cheuvront

    Its the same excuse when it comes to all roundups.
    Horse's are not destructive when comes to grazing anywhere, they are not over populated and they are not starving. Majority of the recent horses gathered all have high body scores and are very healthy (fat).
    This is all about the livestock rancher who are increasing herd sizes to export more beef to foreign countries. Last year the Cattleman's Association made a Billion dollar deal with foreign countries for beef exports.
    Majority of range beef is exported to foreign countries who they get top dollar and only a small percentage of beef is sold in the U.S. and that's to high end restaurants and the wealthy.
    History of the livestock rancher who ever stands in their way there are always victims. They livestock rancher hasn't changed over a hundred years .Greedy.
    Horse's are competition for cattle grazing on Forest lands and public lands. Cattle are destructive going back to the early forty's that was reported in a 1947 report on public lands and Forest lands that it was reported that cattle were being removed from grazing due to over grazing and destruction.
    The Bureau of land management and the Forest service have been failing when it comes to land management since the enactment of both agencies that was enacted by the U.S. Government.
    They are land managers and poor at that, they are not horse managers.
    80 % of Americans oppose roundups, horse slaughter and the misuse of tax dollars for the purpose of roundups and holding prisons.
    As a taxpayer I do not pay taxes for terrorizing, running horses into the ground, to kill or slaughter and the abusive injuries that are caused by Forestry dept.and Bureau of land managements hired thugs livestock companies.
    These Our American wild horses and burros not the Forestry service or the Bureau of land managements.
    Who pays their wages, the American taxpayer and we are paying for these roundups that is not what I pay taxes to be misused as funding for others to profit off the backs of the American taxpayer.

  • Karen Dawn

    The headline should be, "Wild horses cleared from public land for private cattle ranchers."

  • Prophet With Honor

    It's a shame, but it will happen.

  • FasterBadger

    Activists gonna activate

  • Bayou Baby

    "The reality is they’re removing 1,000 horses from two grazing allotments, where ranchers hold permits to graze their private livestock on public lands," And there is the truth of the matter !!!!

  • ReviewTheFacts

    This country has become callous with regard to life, as long it isn't their own. (aside: When people start being rounded up like these horses, it's time to vote out the perpetrators.)
    Also, hammer your representatives with complaints, and let them know this isn't right, and offer alternative solutions. Whatever you do, VOTE IN NOVEMBER..

  • logical

    It's the same thing with deer culls. Activists just don't understand that when you have overpopulation in a confined area the animals will suffer and starve to death because there's not enough food. I'm far more sad for deer and horses that are living miserable lives because HUMANS have made sure that their species thrived and caused too many animals in a certain area. Manage the population and all of the animals will do better.

    Let them starve to death or kill them humanely and use their meat?

  • Technophile Returns

    Slaughtering these horses isn’t inhumane it’s the circle of life. Their meat would be put to good use. One day we will be able to make fake meat cheaply but until then, slaughter away

  • Thomas

    It is OK for ranchers to allow their cattle to graze only to be later sent to slaughter houses, but it is not OK for horses that have grazed on that land to be sent to slaughter houses?

    I wonder how much of this is based on the emotional feeling that horses are cute and lovable?

    There are no natural predators for these horses o there the only way that nature can provide the balance is to allow the horses to starve to death.
    Unless a safer place can be found to move these horses to, it might be more humane to slaughter the horses instead of allowing them to starve to death.

    I would rather not see the horses killed, but what are the alternatives?

  • MWP

    Lot's of misguided "activists" - saving the horses from slaughter has INCREASED the number of horses that are underfed and mistreated in the domestic population. Now these "activists" expect the already over populated domestic herd to absorb thousands more wild horses. They themselves are responsible for the inhumane conditions that we sometimes find today.

    I say all of the above as a former horse owner, who in fact does still love horses...

  • somsai

    There are too many horses. They are destroying the habitat and ecosystems in which they occur. It's long past time to euthanize. The horses are not wild, they are feral.

  • Alice Girard

    Leave the horses alone. Remove the invasive cattle. This is all for the benefit of the big ranchers not the horses. You know it would also help if humans stopped breeding like rabbits and leave some room for the animals. There are by far too many damn humans on this planet. And please no lectures on human life. I,for one, don't believe that all human life is sacred. Don't believe the lies from the BLM.

  • tj

    '... and when you have far too many animals than the land can carry...' Isn't it nice how certain agencies cherry pick the sciences to fit their agenda. Humans are animals. When will the same science data stand true for all animals instead of just those that are a nuisance to a small number of humans. If they truly believed these horses were a problem they should relocate them, not sell them like objects, as if they hold any ownership over them. Despicable.

  • CaptnBlynd

    "and demanding that the acting director of the federal agency "halt any sales of wild horses" until the director responded to her questions."
    After all, everyone has to do what a progressive demands. This sort of arrogance used to be associated with the other side of politics. That is why I switched sides in my voting. I always vote against those who think they have the right to tell others what to do.

    We reduce the population or they all starve. If you feel so strongly against it, adopt them and pay for their care. Personally I would do the societal math. A million or so homeless and tens of millions hungry in this nation alone; too many horses. I think the solution is obvious.
    Spare me your moral objections until you have experienced going without food for days at a time on a regular basis. Meat is meat. We have such strong social taboos against cannibalism so that you remain off the menu.