Sand Wash Basin (Colo.) update: BLM captures 93 wild horses

/ In The News, News, Roundups

The stallion Merlin led a foal abandoned on the range near the trap site on Monday. Both were captured but Merlin later escaped. All photos by Meg Frederick.

Click here to read RTF’s full statement on the Sand Wash Basin roundup.

The Bureau of Land Management captured 93 wild horses on Monday, the sixth day of a planned 783-horse “emergency” helicopter roundup on Colorado’s Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area. No deaths were reported on Monday.

A total of 422 wild horses have been captured since the roundup began. One death has been reported.

The famous stallion Picasso on the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area.

RTF’s humane observer, Meg Frederick, said that the two helicopter pilots became increasingly aggressive and were driving wild horses great distances, upwards of 10 to 15 miles over rugged terrain, from the north to the south of the Herd Management Area where the trap was located. 

On Monday, a son of the famous stallion Picasso nicknamed P.J. (Picasso Junior) circled outside the trap site, refusing to leave his captured family band (see photo below). P.J. was later captured on Tuesday morning. His brother Tango’s band was captured on Sunday. Picasso was arguably the most famous wild stallion in the country when, at about 30 years old, he disappeared in 2019. Observers fear the roundup will result in Picasso’s line vanishing from the Sand Wash Basin forever.

Also on Monday: Wranglers brought in one foal that was unable to keep up with its family band and the helicopter. In addition, a stallion called Merlin led an abandoned foal (believed to have been one of two foals seen by observers left on the range Saturday) toward the corrals. Both were captured, but Merlin later escaped.

The BLM’s justification for the roundup is the number of “excess” wild horses on the Herd Management Area. The roundup was prioritized then as an emergency because of a lack of forage, especially at lower evaluations, with winter coming, according to BLM.

Prior to the roundup, BLM estimated the number of wild horses on Sand Wash pat about 896 wild horses. The BLM-set “Appropriate Management Level” for the 157,730-acre Herd Management Area is 163-363, or as low as one horse for every 968 acres.

By comparison, BLM allows up to 19,758 Animal Unit Months of private cattle and sheep grazing on four allotments overlapping the Herd Management Area, or the equivalent of 1,647 cow-calf pairs annually. (One AUM equals monthly forage for one cow-calf pair, one horse or five sheep.) While wild horses are free-roaming all year long, seasons of use for livestock vary by allotment, with cattle use ranging from as low as two to as many as three months and sheep use ranging from as low as six to as many as eight months.

Actual livestock use on three of the allotments averaged 14-52% of maximum livestock use from 2008-20, according to planning documents. On the fourth allotment, there has been no livestock use since before 2000 due to wild horse use and limited acreage and lack of AUMs for cattle, according to planning documents.

No cattle were grazed on the Herd Management Area in 2020-21, according to BLM, while 2,161 AUMs were allocated for sheep in 2020. Use varied by allotment with sheep allowed to graze as early as September and as late as May, according to planning documents.

In 2021, the trailing of sheep through the Herd Management Area has been the only livestock use. An active grazing period was not used, Leonard said, and an exact number of days has not yet been calculated.

Captured horses are to be transported to the BLM facility in Canon City for adoption or sale.

Plans call for 25 mares of the mares rounded up to be treated with fertility control and for them to be released with a similar number of studs. RTF strongly supports the use of safe, proven and humane fertility control to slow reproduction and halt future roundups.

Last year, 300 mares on the Herd Management Area were treated with fertility control, in cooperation with advocates. Advocates will also provide input into which captured horses are released, BLM said.

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.

See BLM’s planning documents here.

See BLM’s tentative roundup schedule here.

Viewing the roundup

The BLM has established a Sand Wash Basin HMA Information Line for viewing opportunities at 970-673-7768. You must call ahead by 8 p.m. Mountain Time the previous day to let us know of your planned attendance.

Take action: Send a message to Congress in support of safe, proven and humane fertility control