The Bureau of Land Management calls them “gathers”; others call them “roundups.”
They are a blunt instrument wielded as part of costly and inhumane system of government wild-horse management. By any name, roundups typically involve the permanent removal of wild horses and burros from their home ranges. Roundups are especially dangerous when conducted using helicopters that drive fleeing wild horses over long distances, often over rough terrain. Once trapped in pens, panicked family bands and herds are torn apart — with even the foals taken from mares — as government contractors separate them by gender and age.
The captured wild horses then face an uncertain future: A portion considered less adoptable, because of their older age, may be released back onto the range, with the mares treated with fertility control. Those are the lucky ones. Most of the captured will be put up for adoption, with the vast majority passed over before being trucked away to join tens of thousands in government holding facilities. Through failed or unscrupulous adoptions or sales, an unknown number of wild horses fall into the hands of kill buyers: The ultimate betrayal of America’s promise to fully protect its iconic free-roaming wild horses and burros.
News and Actions Regarding Wild Horse and Burro Roundups
What exactly is a wild horse roundup?
Using low-flying helicopters to stampede and round up wild horses, the federal government removes them by the thousands from public lands in the West each year.
Once removed, the horses are warehoused in holding facilities. The BLM now warehouses nearly 59,000 wild horses and burros in off-range holding facilities (as of December 2021) with a BLM-estimated 86,189 on the range (as of March 2021).
The approach is costly, both to the taxpayers and to the horses, who lose their freedom and families, and sometimes their lives. In Fiscal Year 2021, the cost of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program stood at $112.3 million.
This fiscal year, the cost of the federal wild horse program is projected to be $80 million. Taxpayers are on the hook for $198,244 every day just to care for the captured horses.
This is a solvable issue. Proven alternatives like safe, proven and humane fertility control can allow for the phasing out of roundups by slowing (not stopping) reproduction, saving taxpayer dollars and keeping wild horses where they belong: on the range. This is the course our government should be pursuing for its wild horse program. It’s a no-brainer.
Wild horses are making their last stand in the American West. Failure is not an option.
In-Field Humane Observers: Watchdogs for Roundups
Return to Freedom staff and volunteers attend as many government roundups of wild horses and burros as possible in keeping with RTF’s efforts to increase government transparency and accountability. Having humane observers on the range enables RTF to press government agencies and contractors to fully comply with care and handling standards under the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program.
Documenting roundups also provides a key way to help policymakers and the public understand how tax dollars are often being misused to fund an inhumane, costly and ineffective system of removing wild horses and burros from the range and placing them in off-range facilities when on-range management alternatives exist.