Judges corral arguments over wild horse protections in remote California county

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“This is one of the most significant wild horse populations left in California,”

A dust-up in California’s remote Modoc County has lassoed the attention of one of the nation’s top courts, with wild horse protection and property rights both on the line.

Animal advocates want more land within the Modoc National Forest set aside for wild horses. Ranchers fear the loss of rangeland suitable for cattle grazing. Their legal fight might foreshadow plenty of other public-lands conflicts when the incoming Trump administration starts putting its brand on agencies like the Forest Service.

“This is one of the most significant wild horse populations left in California,” Suzanne Roy, executive director of the Davis, California-based American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said Thursday.

Located in California’s far northeast corner, Modoc County claims fewer than 10,000 residents. Roughly half the county’s land mass sits within the 1.3 million-acre national forest, enhancing the clout of federal officials and inciting the occasional conflict with residents. It’s a region in which political phrases like Sagebrush Rebellion take root.

This case, though, allies the ranchers with the Forest Service.

In an oral argument set for next Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will consider claims made by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and its allies. The court, in Washington, is sometimes called the nation’s second-highest because of its far-reaching authority over federal agencies, so its eventual decision could resonate well beyond Modoc County.

“This action has important implications for how the Forest Service manages the nearly 200 million acres of national forests,” attorneys for the wild horse advocates said in a legal brief.

The 30-minute oral argument is fallout from the Forest Service’s 2013 management plan for a portion of the Modoc National Forest called the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory. The territory consisted of two parcels totaling 236,000 acres when it was established in 1975.

The Devil’s Garden site is one of 37 federal wild horse or burro territories nationwide.

The Forest Service adjusted the Devil’s Garden borders in the 1980s to create a larger, unified territory, some of it including private land previously used for grazing. The agency further recognized these new borders in a 1991 forest plan. The new management plan in 2013, though, shrunk the territory back to the original 1975 layout.

The change in 2013 cut the expanded wild horse territory by 25,000 acres as it reverted to its original size, and it set a maximum wild horse population of 402.

“We’re trying to prevent the Forest Service from reducing the size of their habitat,” Roy said, adding that “it’s all being driven by the (ranching) interests in the area.”

The California Cattlemen’s Association, state farm bureau and others favoring the smaller territory noted in a legal brief their concerns about the “unprecedented wild horse population explosions that have spilled over onto adjacent private lands and into government-funded offsite holding facilities.”

“Over the past decade, the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory population has exploded to reach 1,124 horses,” the farm groups wrote, adding that “wild horses have even been observed on private property far from the wild horse territory.”

In a 2015 ruling, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson upheld the Forest Service’s action as administratively justifiable.

“At the time the Devil’s Garden (territory) was established, the Forest Service concluded that the disputed territory did not qualify as the territorial habitat of wild free-roaming horses,” Jackson said in her 50-page opinion.

The challengers appealing Jackson’s decision counter in legal filings that the disputed territory “is, and always has been, prime wild horse habitat.”

15 comments on “Judges corral arguments over wild horse protections in remote California county

  1. Sick people!! I would love to see free roaming horses in my back yard. I’m so tired of these complaining ranchers. Most getting special treatment by our government. The cry babies then selling the meat probably to foreign countries. What’s amazing is that there is a growing trend away from consuming animals and consuming more plant based products. This is where the money will be. So much time and money is wasted on these law suits that if used wisely could benefit the horses much better. Its totally sad that the swipe of a pen has turned the lives of so many horses into this. And Wild Horse Annies efforts down the drawn! Damn them to Hell!!

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  2. Do these ranchers have fencing on their private property? If not, it would be stupid for them to complain. That’s like leaving your door open and then whining that squirrels and raccoons are “taking over”.

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  3. The USFS discontinued all funding for long term holding for wild horses and burros a few years ago. During the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Management Advisory Board meeting in 2015 and again on April 14, 2016, Barry Imler, Forest Service Rangeland Management Specialist provided the USFS “new” flow chart for wild horses captured on USFS lands. The chart clearly shows that ALL captured wild horses not returned to public lands or young ones not adopted after 3 attempts and all wild horses over the age of ten WILL BE euthanized or sold without limitation (kill buyers). They will NOT be going to any long term holding.
    Last September at least about 100 horses were captured from Devil’s Garden. These horses were taken to a nearby private ranch where Sue Cattoor (WTF!) was in charge of public viewing, per news article. “Older horses with adoption commitments and all horses ages 5 and younger will be transported to the BLM’s Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro facility.”
    My question: What happened to all the older than 5 years’ horses? Shall we assume that with the USFS blessing and assistance that Sue sold them to kill buyers?

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    • slaughterhouse sues group “Protect the Harvest” stands ready to profit from that free range, government paid round-up- meat bonanza. Those poor horses! they’d be better off with expert marksmen shooting them from a distance on their range. At the least they would always remain wild and free to the instant end of their existence.

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  4. An important question unanswered here: were the private landowners compensated when the USFS adjusted its borders, or was it simply taken from them by the USFS? If they were paid they have no argument here now.

    “The Forest Service adjusted the Devil’s Garden borders in the 1980s to create a larger, unified territory, some of it including private land previously used for grazing. The agency further recognized these new borders in a 1991 forest plan. The new management plan in 2013, though, shrunk the territory back to the original 1975 layout.”

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    • My question is if the USFS isn’t allowing neither bovines nor equines to graze on a parcel of land that they’ve had access to for years, what was their motivation and was it justified? Also, did the USFS ask horse advocates and private land ranchers about shrinking their acreage BEFOREHAND? I understand that eminent domain is a real thing, but it has the potential to be abused and it seems to me like the federal government is at fault, not the ranchers nor the horses. Am I missing something? Aside from that, it would be foolish for the property owners to be mad at the horses for wandering on to their property if it’s not fenced in.

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  5. Leave the wild horses alone they were here befote us all. Its there right to live there free. You have already taken the land from the Indians and made them give up there way of life. So stop rounding up the horses!!!!!!!!

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  6. It would be such a travesty of justice were these splendid wild horses to have their long-standing and ecologically harmonious population, or herd, gutted to appease the selfish ranchers! This must not be allowed to happen. It is so wrong and on so many points!

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  7. The FS is an agency under the USDA. Under E.O. 13112 (later # altered under 43 to add the DHS after 9/11. USDA lists the horse as an exotic, alien, non-native species. For 13 mo. the USDA had a broken link to Massey University, New Zealand. However, it was possible to find the info going to Massey’s website and following the menus. Massey University had the same blurb that the USDA had in which Equus caballus was listed with a few vertebrates such as weasels and stouts. At the end of Massey’s entry, the author had written “for the country of New Zealand only.” Finally the link was fixed, but if one was reviewing the New Zealand site, there was a link to a USDA site, so that the New Zealand listing was still listed on the Massey site but the link was so subtle, one was in the USDA site without necessarily knowing one would end up in the USDA. Why do we have this little glitch between Massey University and the USDA on alien, invasive species? Obviously, this type of misinformation and misdirection could appear to be unintended computer glitches, but not necessarily fraud. But the purpose of the alien species act was to defraud people of their property. The USDA linked to FAO, but there had no respected authority listed either. With the plethora of scientific evidence that clearly shows that the horse is native, and that was known as far back as the early mid-1800’s. Horses were clearly identified by Charles Darwin as early as 1831 on his travels around the coast of S. America on the HMS Beagle. He found fossils and bones present on rocky cliffs and rocky islands off the coast of South America. He was clear that the horse (modern horse) was present prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Dr. Thomas Henry Huxley visited Yale professor and paleontologist Dr. Ortheneil Marsh in his home where he spent two days going of the vast number of horse ancestor and horse fossils Dr. Marsh’s staff had collected largely from the West. The two went over the reconstructed horse skeletons with particular emphasis on how the horse had changed through time. The focus was on the change in the teeth (which informs one about the dietary changes horse experienced through time—related to climate changes over time) as well as changes from five toes to one. Dr. Marsh’s uncle, George Peabody, donated over a $150,000 dollars to Yale to create the Peabody Museum. As for the second reason the USDA would have used a link to the New Zealand page is that the. New Zealand page only listed a few mammal species while the U.S. lists all livestock, native horses and burros, camelids (also native). So right now the ranchers can look at the USDA’s invasive mammals page where they see horses see weasels and horses, but no sheep, cattle, sheep, goat, pigs, dogs, or cats.

    Laws and regulations that are based on fraud or are made with the intent to defraud are voidable, but the damage cannot be reversed. It is not my place to tell those of you who live in the West what to do, but I am absolutely certain that if all the issues are brought forward for which there is sound evidence to support, we could end this illegal and cruel occupation of our public lands. President Obama renewed E.O. 13112 on September 30, 2015.

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  8. The Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory (WHT) is
    administered by the Modoc National Forest.
    Location/Habitat, located about five miles north of Alturas.
    The territory consists of 300,000 acres of Forest Service
    land and 8,300 acres of Bureau of Land Management land.
    Wild horses have been present on the Devil’s Garden Plateau
    for more than 140 years.
    http://www.theagmagazine.com/Fall2016.pdf

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  9. DEVIL’S GARDEN PLATEAU WILD HORSE TERRITORY MANAGEMENT PLAN
    http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/68506_FSPLT3_1452088.pdf

    5.1 Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) Members
    IDT Leader(s): Rob Jeffers and SUSAN STOKKE
    Writer/Editor(s): SUSAN STOKKE and Rob Jeffers
    Wild Horses: Rob Jeffers
    Range: SUSAN STOKKE

    JACKSON MT. WILD HORSES (excerpts)
    http://americanherds.blogspot.com/

    Though BLM admitted to most of the Jackson Mountains wild horses having snotty noses and respiratory illness when they arrived at Palomino Valley, what BLM definitely was not admitting too is, respiratory complications are one of the known detrimental effects of driving wild horses by helicopter.
    During the past two years, practically every BLM facility has experienced similar disease outbreaks, leading to the confirmed deaths of scores of animals…..”
    As for what happened to those involved in the Jackson Mountains tragedy?
    Nevada Wild Horse & Burro Lead SUSIE STOKKE and National Wild Horse & Burro Lead DEAN BOLSTEAD continue to serve in their respective positions.
    Though what happened to the Jackson Mountains wild horses and the months leading up to their deaths was one of the worst cases of wild horse “mismanagement” ever documented, not a single animal welfare group or humane advocacy organization expressed interest in legally challenging BLM’s actions or demanded accountability for what was done.

    Stampede to Oblivion

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