Wild horse corrals near Susanville closed to the public due to highly contagious disease

Damon Arthur
Redding Record Searchlight
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management closed to the public its wild horse and burro corrals near Litchfield due to an outbreak of pigeon fever.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management wild horse and burro corrals near Susanville have been closed to the public due to an outbreak of a highly contagious disease.

The BLM had been gathering wild horses and bringing them to the Litchfield corrals, where some of them are put up for adoption, officials said.

As of last Thursday, there were about 800 horses at the corrals, but the BLM is not adopting out any horses while the agency deals with an outbreak of what it believes to be pigeon fever.

About 20 horses at the facility have symptoms consistent with the disease, BLM spokesman Jeff Fontana said Thursday.

The disease is usually not fatal and it typically causes abscesses to form on the chest region of the horse or under the belly. 

The 20 horses have been separated from the rest of the horses in the corrals, he said.

The corrals are closed to the public because officials don't want visitors to accidentally spread the disease to horses outside the facility, Fontana said.

“We do not want people to inadvertently spread any type of infection to their own horses or burros after visiting the corrals," Emily Ryan, manager of the Eagle Lake Field Office, said in a news release.

The bacteria live and multiply in dry soil and manure. Hot, dry weather facilitates this bacterial growth. Horses contract the disease through an open wound or fly bite, with bacteria entering through these abrasions or wounds and, sometimes, mucous membranes.

While BLM officials were primarily concerned about humans spreading the disease to other horses, there was at least one case of a human that contracted the disease. 

A veterinarian treating a horse with pigeon fever also contracted the disease in 2008, according to the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association.

The BLM has not determined when the corrals will reopen to the public.

The BLM began rounding up wild horses and a small number of wild burros from public lands in northwest Nevada on Sept. 27, the agency said.

After being captured, the horses are taken to the corrals at Litchfield, which is about 15 miles east of Susanville.

The U.S. Forest Service is also rounding up wild horses this fall, but they are gathered from the Devil's Garden Plateau area northwest of Alturas. As of Wednesday, 428 horses had been gathered in the area, according to the forest service.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has closed to the public its wild horse and burro corrals due to an outbreak of pigeon fever.

Those horses are not kept at the Litchfield corrals, Fontana said.

BLM and forest service officials said the horses and burros are removed from the rangeland to prevent damage to the environment from overgrazing and be "in balance with other authorized range users," BLM officials said.

The BLM may release up to 170 horses back to the range in northwest Nevada. Mares that are released are treated with fertility control drugs to slow herd population growth, the BLM said.

Damon Arthur is part of a team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 and damon.arthur@redding.com. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!