Sand Wash Basin (Colo.) update: BLM ends roundup on HMA, captures horses from outside its borders

/ In The News, News, Roundups

A contractor’s helicopter drives wild horses toward the trap site on Tuesday at Sand Wash Basin. 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 23 wild horses on Thursday, the ninth day of a planned 783-horse “emergency” helicopter roundup on and around Colorado’s Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area.

The BLM announced on Thursday that it had concluded its roundup on the Herd Management Area on Wednesday. “Horse gathering operations will continue outside the HMA on private and public lands in an attempt to gather small, scattered bands of horses known to reside outside the HMA,” the BLM wrote on its Facebook page.

On Thursday, a contractor’s helicopter drove one group to the trap site that had wandered onto a ranch outside the Herd Management Area.

BLM also announced that, as previously planned, it had worked with local volunteers on the Sand Wash Basin Advocacy Team to select 50 wild horses (25 studs and 25 mares) that will be released back onto the range Saturday after the mares are treated with fertility control. RTF strongly supports the use of safe, proven and humane fertility control to slow reproduction and halt future roundups.

On his Facebook page, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who had urged BLM to call off the roundup and work with the state on managing wild horses, said that BLM’s announcement on Thursday showed “how federal and state governments can potentially work together.”

“While I wish this roundup hadn’t even started,” he added, “I’m encouraged by the opportunity to chart a more humane course for our state’s beloved wild horses. The outpouring we heard shows how much people care for the wellbeing of these iconic Colorado animals, and our administration can play a key role in engaging people who can work together to ensure the health and wellbeing of Colorado’s wild horses for generations to come.”

A total of 631 wild horses have been captured since the roundup began. One adult wild horse and one foal have been confirmed as dead, euthanized for what BLM described as pre-existing conditions but which observers believe were injuries caused by the roundup. Emotions have also run high because citizens attending have not seen enough diligence on the part of the agency in searching for missing foals and adult horses.

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.

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.

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

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.