Rock Springs (Wyo.) update: Totals reach 4,032 wild horses captured, 37 killed

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A contractor’s helicopter drives wild horses toward the trap site during the roundup on the Salt Wells Creek Herd Management Area in Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Lynn Walleen.

TAKE ACTION: Oppose the Wyoming wild horse wipeout.

The Bureau of Land Management captured 359 wild horses Friday-Sunday as the agency’s largest-ever helicopter roundup continued on the White Mountain Herd Management Area. Two privately branded geldings were also captured on Friday.

Four wild horses were killed, all on Satuday: a mare died after running into a panel and three horses were put down for clubfoot.

On Sunday, a mare struggled to make it into the trap site with her family band. The helicopter went back for her, forcing her to move by hovering just above her. Later,  two wranglers roped her and guided her into the trap (see video from photographer Angelique Rea here). BLM personnel later said that something other than lameness or colic was affecting the mare, but that they weren’t sure what, and that she was under a veterinarian’s observation.

BLM plans to capture 4,300 wild horses from five Herd Management Areas. The agency plans to permanently remove 3,500 wild horses and to return 800 wild horses to the range, treating all released mares with fertility control.

BLM has captured a total of 4,032 wild horses, so far. A total of 37 wild horses have been killed, 27 put down for what the agency classified as “pre-existing / chronic” conditions, while 10 have suffered “acute / sudden deaths,” like broken necks and broken legs.

A total of 488 wild horses have been released, according to BLM’s gather report, including 237 mares treated with fertility control or with intrauterine devices.

RTF strongly supports the use of PZP, a form of safe, proven and humane fertility control as a tool to halt future roundups. While the IUDs are described as a newer technology made of soft, anchor-shaped silicone, RTF remains opposed to their use until they are shown to be safe, humane and effective. BLM expects that the IUDs will eventually fall out.

The roundup began on Oct. 7. The removal of wild horses was paused on Dec. 6 after BLM completed removals from the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Herd Management Areas. Having completed removing wild horses from the White Mountain Herd Management Area, BLM has moved on to the Little Colorado Herd Management Area.

The BLM contends that the helicopter roundup is needed to return the five Herd Management Areas to their agency-set “Appropriate Management Levels.” The Herd Management Areas are made up of 3.4 million acres of public, State and private lands in Carbon, Fremont, Lincoln, Sublette, and Sweetwater counties in southwest Wyoming.

“The gather is being conducted to address the overpopulation on the HMAs, prevent deterioration of the rangeland due to the overpopulation, remove horses from private lands and areas not designated for their long-term use, and comply with the 2013 Consent Decree between the Rock Springs Grazing Association and the BLM,” the agency said in a press release.

Prior to the roundup, the BLM estimated that there were 5,105 wild horses, not including foals, on the five HMAs, which have a combined Appropriate Management Level of 1,550-2,145 horses.

By comparison, the roundup area overlaps 32 livestock allotments for seasonal grazing with a total permitted use of 191,791 Animal Unit Months, the equivalent of 15,983 cow-calf pairs annually. One AUM equals the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow-calf pair, one horse or five sheep for one month. Actual livestock use amounted to about half that maximum between 2010-20, according to BLM.

Captured wild horses will be transported to holding facilities in Rock Springs and Wheatland, Wyo., and “other locations to be determined” to be readied for sale or adoption. Some of the horses may also be taken to the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton, Wyo., or the Mantle Adoption and Training Facility in Wheatland for gentling before being made available for adoption.

To read BLM’s planning documents for the roundup, click here.

In 2017, BLM captured 1,968 wild horses from the Salt Wells Creek,  Great Divide Basin and Adobe Town HMAs. Fifteen wild horses died. No mares were treated with safe, proven and humane fertility control, which could have delayed or halted future roundups.

The roundup takes place against the backdrop of a separate planning process for the same HMAs that could permanently alter the landscape for wild horses in the region.

BLM is leaning toward a Resource Management Plan amendment that would strip more than 2.4 million acres from wild horse use – an 87% reduction – in the Checkerboard region of southern Wyoming, a move which Return to Freedom strongly opposes.

BLM is amending its Resource Management Plan in order to comply with a consent decree it entered into in 2013 with the Rock Springs Grazing Association, a livestock group that sued to have wild horses removed from Wyoming’s Checkerboard, a 2-million-acre area of alternating blocks of private and public land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad.

BLM’s pending plan considers only reallocating forage from wild horses to other wildlife or livestock without making an equivalent amount of forage available to wild horses elsewhere.

In drafting its plan, BLM apparently did not consider other possible solutions more in keeping with the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act like land swaps or scaling up a program of safe, proven and humane fertility control, which could stabilize herd populations and reduce the number of wild horses removed then warehoused in already overcrowded off-range holding facilities.

The roundup is part of an excessive, irresponsible plan by the agency to remove “at least” 19,000 wild horses and burros from their home range during Fiscal Year 2022.

Viewing the roundup

Participants must provide their own transportation, water and food. The BLM recommends a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. Those interested in observing the gather must notify Brad Purdy at or 307-775-6328.

TAKE ACTION: Oppose the Wyoming wild horse wipeout.