On Saturday, Aug. 15, the Bureau of Land Management is set to start a helicopter roundup on the Sulphur Herd Management Area with the goal of capturing 600 “excess” wild horses.
BLM estimates the current population of the Herd Management Area at about 1,193 wild horses. The agency-set Appropriate Management Level is set at 165-250 wild horses for the 267,208-acre Sulphur Herd Management Area, or as low as one horse for every 1,619 acres.
By comparison, more than 17,000 livestock and 8,300 sheep Animal Unit Months are permitted on allotments that have some portion on the Sulphur HMA. An Animal Unit Month is defined as the amount of forage needed to feed a cow, one horse or five sheep for one month.
Fifty captured mares are to be treated with the fertility control vaccine GonaCon, according to a BLM spokesperson. They are to be released later with 50 studs.
While RTF is a strong supporter of the use of fertility control to phase out BLM’s decades-old practice of capture and removal, we remain guarded about the use of the longer-lasting fertility control vaccine GonaCon. Because it interrupts the hormone cascade, GonaCon may cause other behavioral changes that would affect herd dynamics. As such, RTF would like to see more studies to ensure that GonaCon meets the parameters of ethical and thoughtful wildlife fertility control. That is the case with PZP, a non-hormonal vaccine with more than three decades of research behind it that RTF has used at its sanctuary with a 91-98% efficacy rate.
Wild horses removed from the range will be transported to the Axtell (Utah) Off-Range Contract Wild Horse Facility to be prepared for adoption or sale.
RTF has intervened as a defender in an ongoing court case pitting Beaver County, Utah, against the BLM. The county wants to force the Bureau of Land Management to immediately remove all “excess” wild horses from the Herd Management Area.
RTF and other advocates seeking to protect the historically and genetically important Sulphur wild horses from removal from their federally designated habitat and, importantly, to preserve BLM’s ability to manage the wild horse population on the range by using tools like safe, proven, and humane fertility control vaccines.
Beaver County first filed a complaint about the horses in 2017. The two sides are now negotiating a settlement.
In 2018, BLM removed 250 wild horses from the Sulphur Herd Management and Bible Springs Complex of Herd Management Areas. No mares were treated with fertility control.
The last roundup solely on the Sulphur Herd Management Area
Thirty wild horses died during the roundup, 29 of which were euthanized.
That roundup was part of a 10-year plan to reduce the wild horse population to the agency’s Appropriate Management Level of 165. In March 2016, prior to the roundup, BLM estimated the population on the HMA at 957 horses.
RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary is home to two family bands of Sulphur Springs wild horses, led by the stallions Chief and Running Bear. The pure Sulphurs are of Spanish origin, based on phenotype and blood-typing. Many have distinctive dorsal and leg striping.
Viewing the roundup
Details for BLM-escorted tours will be announced daily on the agency’s gather hotline at (801) 539-4050. On Saturday, August 15, members of the public should meet at the Border Inn located on the Utah-Nevada Border on Highway 6 and Highway 50 where tours will depart at 5:15 a.m. MDT. Social distancing guidelines will apply. Participants should bring hand sanitizer and should not attend if they feel ill or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within 14 days.