BLM endangering lives of Sand Wash Basin wild horses

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Captured wild horses crowded into temporary holding pens on the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area. Photo by Meg Frederick.

Return to Freedom successfully lobbied for Congress’s requirement that the Bureau of Land Management finally abides by its own Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, a humane-handling protocol during roundups, starting in Fiscal Year 2020.

Just since Sept. 1, we’ve seen the BLM and its contractor, Cattoor Livestock, repeatedly trod over that congressional mandate during an ongoing 783-horse helicopter roundup on Colorado’s Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area.

BLM has confirmed the death of one wild horse and one 6-month-old foal, which was euthanized today The foal had injuries to all four legs. BLM said that the injuries were pre-existing, yet the foal had managed to survive on-range for six months and walk to the trap site in search of his mother. When citizens on-site raise concerns about horses, BLM often claims that they have pre-existing conditions. Our humane observer has documented instances of foals and visibly injured wild horses left behind on the range without seeing BLM attempting to find them and bring them in. Also of great concern: family bands with very young foals being driven more than 10 miles over rugged terrain by two helicopters as well as pilots flying dangerously close to horses and the trap site, among other egregious violations about which RTF is filing a formal complaint.

Mind you, this appalling behavior is happening under the spotlight of a roundup that Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Joe Neguse, national and local wild horse advocates, including RTF and thousands of its supporters, and the Sierra Club all urged BLM to call off or postpone while working with the state and local advocates on alternatives. BLM is conducting simultaneous roundups throughout the West, often without observers on hand, as it seeks to remove an additional 6,000 wild horses by the end of this month. The agency’s justification: climate change-driven drought for which a national agency charged with managing our public lands ought to have been prepared.

RTF worked with the nation’s largest animal welfare groups and other rangeland stakeholders to produce a model for Congress in 2019 that showed how safe, proven and humane fertility control could be used to balance herd populations, phase out roundups and save taxpayer money over time. BLM has ignored this gradual shift toward on-range management in favor of its own extreme agenda.

BLM will remove most of the wild horses without treating additional mares with fertility control then releasing them – effectively guaranteeing that helicopter contractors will soon return to the same places to remove more wild horses at taxpayer expense. This, despite Congress appropriating millions of additional dollars to implement fertility control.

At Sand Wash Basin, BLM is planning to remove 733 of the estimated 896 wild horses on the Herd Management Area. It plans to return 50 wild horses to the range, including just 25 mares treated with safe, proven and humane fertility control that could delay or eliminate future roundups.

Last year, volunteers darted 300 mares on Sand Wash Basin with fertility control. Now, many of those same mares will be taken from their home range forever.

The BLM’s justification for the roundup is the number of “excess” wild horses on the Herd Management Area (the BLM-set “Appropriate Management Level” for the 157,730-acre Herd Management Area is just 163-363 horses). The roundup was prioritized as an “emergency” because of a lack of forage, especially at lower evaluations, with winter coming.

TAKE ACTION: Please click here to join us in urging Congress to mandate that BLM increase transparency and accountability during roundups and all handling of wild horses and burros.

Donate to RTF’s Wild Horse Defense Fund