Feb 27, 2020

Home is where the herd is...

Yes, it is!!
Yes, it is!!

If you have been seeing our quarterly reports, you know that since the Gila Herd was rescued by RTF in 2017 they have been on the move until settling into their current 2 locations. The horses were originally captured from the Painted Rock Herd Management area in Arizona in 2003. When the South Dakota sanctuary which had taken them in foundered, RTF spearheaded a campaign, working with other rescues and individuals, to get all the nearly 900 endangered horses into secure situations. RTF spoke up for the 120+ Gilas.

The herd traveled from South Dakota to Nevada to Northern CA , and moved from one location to another there when the first boarding location was sold.  Then, when a private ranch owner in Shasta County, CA, generously opened his gates to 64 herd members, part of the herd has settled in there over the past few months. Weather there has been above normal temperatures, with below normal precipitation. Many of the major projects and work there to prepare it for the herd has been completed, although there is always routine maintenance, such as fence repair. RTF’s biologist, Celeste, will begin administering birth control at both Gila locations on first of March. This is the same non-hormonal and reversible fertility control we have been using with success at RTF headquarters for over a dozen years. 

Because the Gila horses are situated firmly for now, you may notice that we have changed the name of this project to “Care for the Rescued Gila Herd”, from “Transport the Gila Herd to CA”. These are the same horses, and they are thriving in their current homes. Great care was taken to identify the herd members who needed to stay together, so there are no issues with the herd’s current division. All are happy in their respective locations.

When RTF first took in the Gila’s, we went to great lengths to determine their lineage and genetic significance through DNA testing and phenotyping, in the hope that the herd would be a good candidate for a dedicated conservation organization to take them over.  That did not turn out to be the case. 

Because of our hope that they would be candidates for a conservation program, we originally planned to be responsible for their care for a maximum of 2 years, until a program could be established. Now that is not an option.  Removing them from the danger of auction and probable slaughter into our care significantly increased our expenses by over a third, and it has been a challenge to shoulder the additional financial needs. But many supporters, caring people like you who read these reports, are the reason that the Gilas have not only survived the danger, but have found a happy, peaceful and safe home. As long as people care, the Gilas will survive and thrive. We hope that you will continue to keep them in your thoughts when you consider a project to support. They have lost a lot in their lives, and they deserve the stability that together, we can give them.

We hope you enjoy the video showing the Gilas eating their hay in the snow in Shasta.  It’s because of our supporters that they can count on their meals. We are grateful for you every day.

Thank you for standing with the Gila Herd!

All of us at Return to Freedom

New Gila Filly!
New Gila Filly!
Gilas in Alturas
Gilas in Alturas
Alturas living
Alturas living
New fence repair in Shasta County, CA Gila home
New fence repair in Shasta County, CA Gila home
Living the good life...
Living the good life...

Links:

Jan 21, 2020

Another year closes at Return to Freedom

Spirit met himself in a painting.
Spirit met himself in a painting.

It's hard to believe that we at Return to Freedom, along with our supporters, have been caring for hundreds of captured wild horses and burros and fighting for their future on the range for 21 years. 

We've only been able to maintain the high quality of care and management of these displaced equines with the help of many people—office and ranch staff, volunteers, vendors, and most importantly, people like you who share our love and respect for the Wild Ones, and make this vision stay alive. In the past few months, with winter rains and the snow up north, the work has been hard, but seeing the happy horses lets us know it’s worth the work and expense.

At RTF headquarters in Lompoc, CA, we have begun planting the pastures with Montezuma Oats which gives some of the herds at this location a few months of grazing in late spring and early summer. We have to feed hay here all year long to some of the horses, but when the rain falls the grass grows and we do enjoy a few months with only light supplementation! In the winter, working with the rainy weather and mud, the daily routine is more than a full day’s work for our dedicated ranch staff.

Since October, RTF Ranch Manager Jason been up north in Shasta County, California at our newest satellite location, getting that location set up and running. Another private ranch owner has generously opened his gates to 64 of the Spanish Gila horses we rescued in 2017! Most recently Jason has been repairing and building new fencelines and moving electric fencing to rotate pastures, keeping the horses and the soil healthy! During the winter, he is utilizing the 100 tons of hay we cut this fall from one of the meadows there. We will be completing the alleys and sorting area in the chute area, where horses can be safely handled for hoof trimming and any necessary medical work. Our new chute is ready to be picked up and set up in a covered area so that the electric tilting chute and work area is protected and powered with a new electrical system. This will make working with the horses easier, safer and more efficient.

This past year, 750 people of all ages attended educational programs and special events at RTF’s Lompoc and San Luis Obispo sanctuary locations, ranging from monthly tours at the Lompoc location to Photo Safaris at the SLO satellite, all created with an eye toward giving visitors time to experience wild horses while learning about their behaviors, history and the challenges that they face on our public lands.

Some of RTF’s work puts an especially big smile on our faces—With the holidays coming to a close, and RTF’s Holiday Appreciation party fading into fond memory, we released two mares -- the inseparable Coco (Chanel) and Sophia (Loren) -- at our satellite sanctuary in San Luis Obispo, Calif. (See this happy event in the video link in this report.)

They were greeted—loudly—by many of the 24 burros that make their home on the rolling hills and, soon after, by some of the 82 other wild horses.

Coco and Sophia were among a dozen older horses from the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory in Northern California to which RTF was able to give sanctuary following a 2018 helicopter roundup. In all, the U.S. Forest Service captured and removed 932 wild horses from their home range during that roundup. When the agency announced unprecedented plans to sell the older horses without any restrictions against slaughter, RTF and other advocates filed suit in federal court to prevent the sale.  However, it dropped the price per horse from $25 to $1, increasing concerns any remaining “sale authority” horses would be purchased by kill buyers. 

With only a handful of older horses left in the government corral, including Sophia, Coco and 10 geldings, a very special donor stepped forward on their behalf and not only reached out to us to give them sanctuary, but sponsors them here as well. These horses are remnants from California’s early ranching heritage and have lived in Devil’s Garden for more than 140 years. (The Forest Service captured and removed another 499 wild horses from Devil’s Garden in 2019.)

As our friends who follow RTF know, as important as our Sanctuary and its residents are to us, we also work on the national stage to assure a real future for all of America’s wild horses and burros. 

In recent months, RTF successfully fought for the inclusion of language in the Fiscal Year 2020 federal funding package barring the Forest Service barred from euthanizing healthy horses and selling horses without restriction. Previously, Congress had applied those restrictions only to the Bureau of Land Management, and to burros who are still running free.

Return to Freedom also played a key role in securing a $21 million congressional investment for a wild horse management strategy built upon the use of proven, safe and humane fertility control, like we use at RTF. This additional funding for the Bureau of Land Management is a first step toward ending the inhumane, costly and unsustainable practice of capturing, tearing apart families and warehousing these American icons.

Return to Freedom also used donated digital billboard time in New York’s Times Square and in ferry boat terminals to draw attention to both the issues of horse slaughter and protecting wild horses. RTF plans to expand the campaign to other cities in the year ahead.

RTF maintains a lobbyist on Capitol Hill (GlobalGiving donations are not used for this work) , and with that effort combined with grassroots support, has helped build majority, bipartisan support for current federal anti-slaughter bill, the SAFE Act, in the House of Representatives, where H.R. 961 has amassed 221 cosponsors. A total of 290 are needed to force a vote on the House floor. The Senate version of the bill, S. 2006, has three cosponsors but many more members of both parties are expected to support this important legislation.

RTF biologist Celeste Carlisle presented at a number of meetings and conferences in 2019, including in October.  Topics included how sanctuaries like RTF’s can advance applied management, the joint proposal to Congress and the role of fertility control in wild horse management. 

A member of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, Carlisle has been an outspoken opponent of risky, costly and inhumane sterilization surgeries for wild mares and jennies. She also serves on a working group intended to improve low-stress handling techniques. The advisory board met in Washington, D.C., Oct. 29-31. Carlisle continued to educate members, including new members, about PZP and explain how and why spay via dangerous colpotemy was both unacceptable to advocates and not feasible.

There is much more RTF activity in the fight for wild horses and burros than can be covered here, but you can know for sure that your support becomes reality every day, as RTF works both for the horses and burros we see every day at the ranch, and the ones we may never see, living free, as they should, on America’s public lands. They all deserve our help, and they desperately need it.

Thank you for being a part of this important mission,

All of us at RTF.

Minnuette smiling after her morning breakfast!
Minnuette smiling after her morning breakfast!
At RTF's Holiday Appreciation Party
At RTF's Holiday Appreciation Party
More Holiday Appreciation!
More Holiday Appreciation!
Some of RTF's NYC Billboards for Wild Horses
Some of RTF's NYC Billboards for Wild Horses

Links:

Dec 2, 2019

RTF's Gila Herd On The Move

Gilas at their new home
Gilas at their new home

The Gila Herd rescued by RTF in 2017 has been thriving in their Alturas, CA home, and the overall herd health has dramatically improved both mentally and physically. 

However, we had a great opportunity to move some of them to an even better location in Shasta County, CA, in a situation mirroring our other satellite in San Luis Obispo and expanding our Mustang Conservator program to partner with private ranch owners to provide life-long sanctuary for bonded wild horses. Giving a home to displaced herds keeps their family bands together instead of splitting them up, never to see each other again, as they are when they are heading to Government or private profit-based holding.

In late summer, RTF Ranch Manager Jason began improving the infrastructure at a new satellite location in Northern California to prepare a new sanctuary for the Gila herd. After haying some of the meadows, we were able to stack 100 tons of hay for the horses there to have during winter months. Next came fencing. The fencing allows for good rotational grazing for holistic management to keep the land healthy and productive. Good fencing is a must, to keep RTF’s horses and burros safe and gently managed. In September our ranch manager moved up north to continue the improvements and to get ready to receive the herd to these greener pastures. Developing watering holes, bridges and safe handing corrals all needed to be done.

With the new location prepared, it was time to move the members of the herd who would be going to the new ranch location.  

Jason went to Alturas and set up corrals to stage horses for shipping. After he had sorted the horses who were to move from pastures to the pens, Neda DeMayo, RTF Founder and President, joined him in the large moving task. Neda and Jason, along with our newly-arrived resident volunteer from Norway, using two pickup trucks and two trailers hauled 64 horses to the new spot. This was roughly a 145-mile round trip. The move was done very carefully, so it was very successful and no injuries or unnecessary stress to the travellng horses occurred.

On Oct. 6tha total of 64 horses, including 4 mares with foals, were released onto green pastures in Shasta County.

The amazing thing is that the horses really sorted themselves! We created a large corral of 70 acres, that was fenced within the 1000-acre pasture in Alturas. Leaving the gates open for a few days and distributing hay all around, 64 horses closely bonded to each other ended up in the large corral trap, and 45 others remained out in the 70-acre field. Once assured that the horses were all settled in with their rightful bands, the gates were closed for a few days to be sure that anyone crying for someone was either let out or let in. Among the horses who made the trip are the younger yearlings and two-year-olds, with a handful of older horses who needed a boost and who will have an easier time at their new home. It was really amazing to see how the horses really did it all themselves, because trying to sort them in these larger areas would have been challenging.

Winter has started up North and snow is on the way! There is still a lot of work to be done, but the horses have plenty of natural forage and water.

We are so grateful to private landowners who have partnered with Return to Freedom as Mustang Conservators. 

45 of the Gila horses remained in Alturas. They may eventually also find a new location and may even be joining the others next spring, but for now, they’re doing great, and we are so glad we took the leap of saving them from auction and probable slaughter in 2017. Without continued support from people like our Global Giving Community, none of this would be possible, and the Gila story would have been a tragic one.

Thank you for your continued help and support in the saga of the Gila herd and their journey to and around California! We hope you watch the video linked to this update, it will show you what you have helped to accomplish. We are so grateful to you!

All of us at RTF

Let's have lunch...
Let's have lunch...
Horses sure like to eat!
Horses sure like to eat!
Small but Mighty work vehicle ready for liftoff
Small but Mighty work vehicle ready for liftoff
Gilas enjoying their new view
Gilas enjoying their new view

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