The Bureau of Land Management captured nine wild horses on Thursday and 34 on Friday, the first two days of the agency’s largest-ever planned helicopter roundup. No deaths were reported.
The BLM plans to capture 4,300 wild horses from five Herd Management Areas in southwestern Wyoming. The agency plans to permanently remove 3,500 wild horses and to return 800 wild horses to the range, treating all released mares with fertility control.
The BLM contends that the helicopter roundup is needed to return the Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, Great Divide Basin, White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Areas to their “Appropriate Management Levels.” The Herd Management Areas are made up of 3.4 million acres of public, State and private lands in Carbon, Fremont, Lincoln, Sublette, and Sweetwater counties in southwest Wyoming.
“The gather is being conducted to address the overpopulation on the HMAs, prevent deterioration of the rangeland due to the overpopulation, remove horses from private lands and areas not designated for their long-term use, and comply with the 2013 Consent Decree between the Rock Springs Grazing Association and the BLM,” the agency said in a press release.
The BLM estimates that there are 5,105 wild horses, not including foals, on the five HMAs, which have a combined Appropriate Management Level of 1,550-2,145 horses.
By comparison, the proposed roundup area overlaps 32 livestock allotments for seasonal grazing with a total permitted use of 191,791 Animal Unit Months or as many as 15,983 cattle annually. One AUM equals the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow or five sheep for one month. Actual livestock use amounted to about half that maximum between 2010-20, according to BLM.
Captured wild horses will be transported to holding facilities in Rock Springs and Wheatland, Wyo., and “other locations to be determined” to be readied for sale or adoption. Some of the horses may also be taken to the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton, Wyo., or the Mantle Adoption and Training Facility in Wheatland for gentling before being made available for adoption.
In 2017, BLM captured 1,968 wild horses from the Salt Wells Creek, Great Divide Basin and Adobe Town HMAs. Fifteen wild horses died. No mares were treated with safe, proven and humane fertility control, which could have delayed or halted future roundups.
The roundup takes place against the backdrop of a separate planning process for the same HMAs that could permanently alter the landscape for wild horses in the region.
BLM is leaning toward a Resource Management Plan amendment that would strip more than 2.4 million acres from wild horse use – an 87% reduction – in the Checkerboard region of southern Wyoming, a move which Return to Freedom strongly opposes.
BLM is amending its Resource Management Plan in order to comply with a consent decree it entered into in 2013 with the Rock Springs Grazing Association, a livestock group that sued to have wild horses removed from Wyoming’s Checkerboard, a 2-million-acre area of alternating blocks of private and public land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad.
BLM’s pending plan considers only reallocating forage from wild horses to other wildlife or livestock without making an equivalent amount of forage available to wild horses elsewhere.
In drafting its plan, BLM apparently did not consider other possible solutions more in keeping with the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act like land swaps or scaling up a program of safe, proven and humane fertility control, which could stabilize herd populations and reduce the number of wild horses removed then warehoused in already overcrowded off-range holding facilities.
Viewing the roundup
Participants must provide their own transportation, water and food. The BLM recommends a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. Those interested in observing the gather must notify Brad Purdy at email@example.com or 307-775-6328.