Current Trends and Management of Wild Horses on the Devil’s Garden Plateau
In Modoc County, located in northeastern California, there is a high elevation sage-steppe rangeland ecosystem heavily populated by wild horses and managed primarily by the United States Forest Service (USFS) called the Devil's Garden Plateau. Wild horses have significantly exceeded (roughly 2,000 horses) appropriate management levels (206-402 horses) in recent years and expanded their range outside of the designated territory (258,000 acres) and onto private and tribal lands (nearly 500,000 acres). Increased pressure from wild horses on the multiple use mandate of Forest Service lands have put strains on livestock, wildlife, and the local rural economy. The Modoc National Forest has decreased grazing by roughly 5,000 AUMs (animal unit months) on the Devil’s Garden Plateau due to excessive wild horse use. Each lost AUM results in a decrease of $57.43 - $144.70 of income to Modoc County. Three helicopter gathers in recent years have removed over 1,500 horses from the Devil’s Garden Plateau. Due to the extensive collaboration between the USFS, Modoc National Forest, and local partners, many of these horses have found new homes. This was done by using a tiered pricing approach and offering sales with limitations for older and unadoptable horses. The addition of a robust social media campaign run by volunteers has created a brand for the Devil’s Garden Plateau horses and educated the public on the declining range condition and horse health. Although good progress is being made to gather and place horses in private care, more diverse management solutions may be needed in the future.