The Bureau of Land Management plans to remove 220 wild horses in an “emergency” helicopter roundup starting on or about Aug. 30 on a portion of the Palomino Butte Herd Management Area, about 15 miles southwest of Burns, Ore. The roundup is expected to last one week or less.
“Excessive horse population coupled with severe drought conditions has resulted in an inadequate supply of water and forage to sustain animal health through the remainder of the summer,” the BLM said in a press release.
The 71,000-acre Herd Management Area is divided by fencing into the Weaver Lake (about 24,000 acres) and Palomino Butte (about 47,000 acres) use areas.
All but three waterholes within the Palomino Butte use area are dry. Of the three, only one has enough water to last through August, BLM said. On July 1, the agency began hauling 30,000 gallons of weekly water to two of the diminishing waterholes “to sustain animal health until an emergency gather was possible.” An estimated 250 wild horses water at the three waterholes.
In addition, a trough serviced by a well outside the HMA boundary supplies water to about 70 wild horses in the remaining portion of the Palomino Butte use area.
While the average body condition score for the wild horses was 4 (moderately thin) on a 9-point scale in June, “animal condition is expected decline as … forage availability declines around watering locations,” according to BLM planning documents. “In the absence of a gather or continued water hauling this summer, it is anticipated that dozens to hundreds of animals will die of water starvation and / or stray onto privately-owned lands outside the HMA boundary.”
There appears to be adequate water for the approximately 108 wild horses on the adjacent Weaver Lake use area, BLM said.
The agency-set Appropriate Management Level for the entire 71,000-acre Palomino Butte Herd Management Area is 32 to 64 wild horses, or as low as one horse for every 2,219 acres. The current population is estimated to be 427 horses.
By comparison, three livestock operators are allowed to graze up to 4,199 Animal Unit Months or the equivalent of 350 cow-calf pairs within the Herd Management Area (One AUM is enough forage for one cow-calf pair, one horse or five sheep per month).
Livestock permittees “have taken various degrees of voluntary non-use as well as adjust grazing rotations in response to wild horse utilization levels,” BLM said, but provide no further detail.
The BLM does not plan to treat any additional mares with safe, proven and humane fertility control then release them onto the HMA. Return to Freedom strongly supports the use of fertility control to eliminate future roundups.
Captured wild horses will be transported to BLM’s Off-Range Wild Horse and Burro Corrals in Hines, Ore., to be prepared for adoption or sale.
The roundup is part of a plan to remove 6,000 additional wild horses from the range because of drought conditions by the end of September.
Return to Freedom believes that we are in this tragic position because of the BLM’s failure to implement solutions that have been available for over 20 years For nearly 50 years, these horses have had to suffer this management program and the Americans who love them suffer with them.”
This is even more tragic because other solutions exist now. The agency has resisted creating an infrastructure and a culture that could have made a sustainable and effective fertility control program possible. It has rounded up horses year after year while waiting for longer-acting vaccines instead of using the safe, proven and humane fertility control that’s available right now. These sensitive habitats are vulnerable to drought and, knowing this, a national land management agency tasked with the preservation and protection of our wild horses should have been prepared long ago and in a much better position today.
Viewing the roundup
To view the operation, members of the public must call ahead to 541-573-4519, by 5 p.m. Pacific the day prior, to inform BLM of their planned attendance. Observers must attend a pre-viewing briefing at the BLM Burns District Office, 28910 Highway 20 in Hines, Ore., which will be held each morning before departure to the Herd Management Area. Observation will likely be held of a first come, first served basis. For more information, click here.