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Feds Begin Selling Wild Horses Captured in California for $1 Each

Wild horses from the Devil's Garden Wild Horse Territory. BLM

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced this week it will sell off wild horses recently rounded up from the Devil's Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory inside California's Modoc National Forest for as low as $1 each, drawing condemnation from wild horse advocates who say the "fire sale price" will motivate buyers to launder the horses into slaughter.

About 200 horses are available for adoption and sale until Feb. 18. The fee for purchase "with limitations" has been reduced to $1 per horse, down from the original price of $25. The fee for adoption is $125.


"With limitations" includes a stipulation that prohibits using the horses for human consumption. Other requirements include appropriate transportation, adequate space and healthy accommodations for the animals, according to Ruidoso News.

The horses now up for sale and adoption are all 10 years and older. They were among the 932 mustangs that were gathered via helicopters in the territory near Alturas, California between Oct. 10 and Nov. 8.

The gathering of wild horses has prompted fierce debate about how to control populations. On the one hand, the USFS basically views the Devil's Garden horses as " a pest," as reporter Leighton Akio Woodhouse explained on The Intercept:

According to Laura Snell of the University of California Cooperative Extension, who works closely with the Forest Service, "The population of horses on Devil's Garden needs to be between 200 and 400 animals. It's now at nearly 4,000." Snell holds the horses responsible for land degradation on the high desert plateau, including the destruction of native grasses by overgrazing and the depletion of scarce water sources.

The Wild Horses of the Devil's Garden www.youtube.com

On the other hand, advocates such as Suzanne Roy, the executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), worry that the Devil's Garden horses up for sale will end up as livestock.

In press release emailed to EcoWatch, AWHC blasted the Forest Service's $1-a-piece sale.

"The Forest Service is treating these national treasures like trash by selling them for one dollar a piece, sending a strong message that our cherished wild horses [are] throwaway animals who lack value," Roy said in a statement. "This irresponsible move makes these wild horses vulnerable to purchase by individuals with ill intent, and ignores the wishes of 80 percent of Americans who want wild horses protected on our public lands, not slaughtered."

AWHC said that the Forest Service is already facing criticism from the public and federal and state officials, including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, over its plans to offer horses for sale without limitation on slaughter.

"The sale of wild horses for $1 a piece is unprecedented in federal wild horse management, and renders the restrictions of sale with limitation meaningless," Brieanah Schwartz, policy counsel for AWHC, said in a statement. "Not only are the horses being sold at a price that makes them essentially valueless, but also the Forest Service has absolutely no measures in place to enforce the sale with limitations restrictions."

The Forest Service is currently being sued by advocates—including Return to Freedom—over its plan to sell any horses that have not been adopted or sold after three attempts without limitations, according to a blog post from the nonprofit. Those sales could begin as early as Feb. 18.

AWHC is calling for immediate oversight measures including public review of all applications for five or more horses at a time before the horses are sold. Without such enforcement measures, AWHC said these new sales terms will encourage kill buyers to purchase the horses and transport them across the border for slaughter in Canada or Mexico.

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