Wild horse field trip a success

Shows group listening from shaded forest seats to Range Specialist Jenny JayoOn July 6, the Modoc National Forest sponsored a collaborative group tour of the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory. Deputy Regional Forester Barnie Gyant kicked off the tour by expressing Forest Service support for and understanding of this important issue.

Approximately 30 people attended, including a University of California livestock and natural resource advisor, Forest Service Range specialists, representatives from Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and other wild horse advocates, a representative from the local ranching community, Modoc County employees, volunteers and members of the public. Information about wild horses in Modoc County and around the country was shared by presenters and experts.

Shows damage to a spring barren of vegetation to to wild horse over populationAt each of the stops along the tour the group observed and learned how the Devil’s Garden presents unique challenges. The extreme rocky terrain, competition between native and non-native grasses and sparsely located springs contribute to competition between animal species for limited food and water. Range managers believe lower than average weights of cattle and horses are an indication the range is not able to sustain them as it did in the past. Modoc National Forest Range Specialist Jenny Jayo explained about how overpopulation has caused the size of horses on the territory to decrease significantly over the last decade, which limits their desirability to potential adopters.

Because of programs such as UC Cooperative Extension and the research done by Laura Snell, field trip participants learned more than 70 percent of animal visits to springs are wild horses, with cattle making up 20 percent. Since the horse population has increased, spring degradation has resulted in changes such as fewer caddis flies, no knee high native grasses, more mud and bare ground, silting of springs and an increase in snails and invasive grasses.

District Ranger Greg Moon expressed Forest Service commitment to reducing the wild horse population using all the tools outlined in the Territory Management Plan, including adoption and fertility control. Temporary reduction of cattle grazing and spring restoration combined with exclusion fencing to prevent further riparian degradation are the primary methods of attaining land health.

“Land managers must also know a little about equine behavior, said wild horse activist Carla Bower. “Horses generally live in family groups of a stallion, several mares and their offspring. They need enough of the right food, clear water, a shady place to rest, space to establish their pecking order and achieve their social dynamics.”

Modoc County Natural Resource Adviser Sean Curtis expressed concerns about declining cattle use on federal land and the domino effect on the number of full time jobs and resulting tax income to the county for community services, education and health. He said, “The dollar value of grazing permits to the county is significant. If public lands grazing is lost, the county will be out of business.”

The group discussed other values of horses such as in the tourism industry and were reminded not every value is economic. Ranger Moon mentioned the entire expanse of the Devil’s Garden is a cultural site and spiritually significant to local native tribes. “The Forest Service is working government-to-government with the tribes to help resolve the ecological issues we face. It all starts with sustainability of the land,” he added.

It was generally expressed that each person heard the contribution of others and realized the importance of working together to establish a multi-faceted solution to reaching and maintaining the Appropriate Management Level outlined in the 2013 Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory Management Plan.