The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday ended its helicopter roundup Salt Wells Creek / Great Divide Basin / Adobe Town herd management areas in southwest Wyoming’s Checkerboard region with 1,968 wild horses captured, separated from their family bands and shipped to holding facilities and 15 dead.
The agency set out to remove 1,560 of the BLM-estimated 2,836 wild horses from the three herd management areas, which include 1.7 million acres of public land. In a break from previous practice, the agency did not count foals and weanlings under age 1, and it only began releasing the number of foals captured after Return to Freedom and others raised questions about the daily totals.
A U.S. District Court judge on Friday rejected a preliminary injunction filed requested by advocates, partly over the exclusion of foals from the target, allowing the roundup to continue. In all, 408 foals were captured in addition to 1,560 adults.
Also on Tuesday, two wild horses were euthanized: a a 7-year-old stud with an “old fracture of left hind cannon bone with drainage” and a 9-year-old mare with a body condition of 2, (or “extremely thin”), on a nine-point scale, “with profound weakness in central nervous system.” All 15 wild horses that died during the roundup were euthanized for what BLM described for preexisting conditions with “a hopeless prognosis for recovery.” No veterinary reports have been posted.
The roundup took place against the backdrop of a debate in Congress over whether to allow BLM to kill healthy unadopted wild horses and burros.
About half of the captured wild horses (mares, foals and weanlings) are to be shipped to the Rock Springs, Wyo., Wild Horse Holding Facility. More recently, BLM said that those wild horses would then be moved to the Bruneau Off-Range Corrals, located southeast of Boise, Idaho.
The remainder (studs and some yearlings) will be sent to the Axtel, Utah, Wild Horse Corrals, which earlier this year was the site of an outbreak of strangles. The captured horses are to be offered for adoption, and those that are not adopted will be moved to long-term pastures, according to BLM.
Both the corrals in Bruneau and Axtel are privately owned facilities, closed to the public.
At roundup’s end, 21 mares are to be released after being collared as part of a movement study. BLM’s Friday report noted that 50 wild horses were “gathered” as part of the study, but it is not immediately clear whether those horses were otherwise counted and whether they included mares collared last winter.
The Salt Wells Creek / Great Divide Basin / Adobe Town HMAs are part of Wyoming’s Checkerboard: a largely unfenced region of alternating blocks of public and private or state land. The roundup took place over a combined 1.7 million acres of public land and 731,703 acres of private land.
BLM allows private cattle, sheep and horse grazing on the three Wyoming HMAs equal to 149,962 Animal Unit Months. An AUM is defined as the use of public land by one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. According to BLM, livestock use has been at 39% of permitted levels between 2008-16, with voluntary reductions, in part because of drought.
BLM conducted a 2014 roundup in the region after reaching an agreement with a ranching association to remove wild horses from the entire Checkerboard. That followed a 2013 lawsuit filed by the Rock Springs Grazing Association demanding that BLM remove wild horses from private ranch land there.
Last October, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that BLM violated both the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act and Federal Land Policy Management Act in conducting that 2014 roundup. The court found that the agency illegally treated public lands as private in its plans.
Return to Freedom joined fellow wild horse advocacy organizations and advocates as a co-plaintiff in the case. The appeals court’s ruling resulted in the cancellation of a planned fall 2016 roundup in the Checkerboard, also based on the agreement with the grazing association.
Now, BLM is justifying its plans to maintain the HMAs at its minimum population targets based in part on the court’s ruling.
Please donate to the Wild Horse Defense Fund to support RTF’s advocacy efforts, as well as selective litigation and coverage of roundups by humane witnesses