The Bureau of Land Management captured 187 wild horses in Wyoming’s Red Desert Complex on Tuesday as it began a helicopter roundup intended to remove 2,670 adult wild horses — 76% of the population — from their home range.
No horses died on the first day of the roundup, which is expected to last six to eight weeks, according to BLM.
The agency says that the roundup is needed because of what it deems overpopulation of wild horses, deterioration of rangeland and requests to remove wild horses from neighboring private land. The current population is estimated by the agency to be about 3,500 wild horses.
BLM intends to select mares and stallions from among those captured “to ensure genetic variability and to preserve the New World Iberian Genotype present in the complex.” All mares returned are to be treated with fertility control vaccine.
Most of the wild horses captured will be transported to holding facilities in Rock Springs, Wyo., Canon City, Colo., or Axtell, Utah., seperated from their family bands, sorted by age and gender, then offered for adoption. Some will be taken to the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton, Wyo., or the Mantle Adoption and Training Facility in Wheatland, Wyo., for gentling before being offered for adoption.
BLM’s goal of capturing and removing “adult” wild horses implies that foals may not be counted. In 2017, BLM Wyoming conducted a roundup in the state’s Checkerboard region during which it quickly became clear to observers that foals and weanlings were not being counted toward the total. A federal judge rejected a preliminary injunction intended to stop the roundup, however.
The BLM-set “Appropriate Management Level” for the Red Desert Complex is 481-725 horses — as low as one horse for every 1,566 acres of the complex, which includes 703,500 acres of public land and 49,500 acres of private land.
For livestock in the complex, BLM has allotted 69,889 Animal Unit Months. One AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow-calf combination, one horse, or five sheep for a month. Actual use has varied from 10-70% of authorized use in recent years, depending on availability of forage and water, according to the agency.
The Red Desert Complex includes the Antelope Hills, Crooks Gap, Green Mountain, Lost Creek and Stewart Creek Herd Management Areas in south-central Wyoming.
Viewing the roundup
BLM will escort members of the public that wish to view the roundup to viewing sites. Those that wish to participate must notify Sarah Beckwith at firstname.lastname@example.org or (307) 347-5207. Participants must provide their own transportation, water and food. The BLM recommends footwear and clothing suitable for harsh field conditions and a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. Public restrooms are not be available onsite.