Sulphur HMA (Utah) update: 458 wild horses captured, 5 killed

/ In The News, News, Roundups
A helicopter pursues a wild horse at the Sulphur Horse Management Area during a 2017 roundup. RTF file photo by Steve Paige.

The Bureau of Land Management captured 55 wild horses on Wednesday, the 10th day of a helicopter roundup on the Sulphur Herd Management Area in Utah. A total of 458 wild horses have been captured.

Five have been killed, according to BLM. At one point, the BLM website listed six, but an agency spokesperson said the figure was incorrect.

–On Aug. 17, a foal was euthanized after tearing ligaments and muscles in its right front shoulder;

–On Aug. 19, a 1-year-old stud was euthanized “due to an old injury resulting in a club foot”;

–On Aug. 21, one 20-year-old stud was euthanized “due to a deformed left foot,” while another two-month-old was euthanized because “due to both front legs being deformed from the hock to the hoof.” A third horse, a 22-year-old stuf, died of colic.

BLM’s goal is to capture 600 “excess” wild horses. Through Wednesday, it had captured 114 stallions, 98 mares and 43 foals from the historically and genetically important Sulphur herd.

Prior to the roundup, BLM estimated the population of the Herd Management Area at about 1,193 wild horses. The agency-set Appropriate Management Level is set at 165-250 wild horses for the 267,208-acre Sulphur Herd Management Area, or as low as one horse for every 1,619 acres.

By comparison, more than 17,000 livestock and 8,300 sheep Animal Unit Months are permitted on allotments that have some portion on the Sulphur HMA. An Animal Unit Month is defined as the amount of forage needed to feed a cow, one horse or five sheep for one month.

Fifty captured mares are to be treated with the fertility control vaccine GonaCon, according to a BLM spokesperson. They are to be released later with 50 studs.

While RTF is a strong supporter of the use of fertility control to phase out BLM’s decades-old practice of capture and removal, we remain guarded about the use of the longer-lasting fertility control vaccine GonaCon. Because it interrupts the hormone cascade, GonaCon may cause other behavioral changes that would affect herd dynamics. As such, RTF would like to see more studies to ensure that GonaCon meets the parameters of ethical and thoughtful wildlife fertility control. That is the case with PZP, a non-hormonal vaccine with more than three decades of research behind it that RTF has used at its sanctuary with a 91-98% efficacy rate.

Wild horses removed from the range will be transported to the Axtell (Utah) Off-Range Contract Wild Horse Facility to be prepared for adoption or sale.

RTF has intervened as a defender in an ongoing court case pitting Beaver County, Utah, against the BLM. The county wants to force the Bureau of Land Management to immediately remove all “excess” wild horses from the Herd Management Area.

RTF and other advocates seeking to protect the historically and genetically important Sulphur wild horses from removal from their federally designated habitat and, importantly, to preserve BLM’s ability to manage the wild horse population on the range by using tools like safe, proven, and humane fertility control vaccines.

Beaver County first filed a complaint about the horses in 2017. The two sides are now negotiating a settlement.

In 2018, BLM removed 250 wild horses from the Sulphur Herd Management and Bible Springs Complex of Herd Management Areas. No mares were treated with fertility control.

The last roundup solely on the Sulphur Herd Management Area was held in 2017. A total of 655 wild horses were captured. Of those, 192 older horses were re-released, including 80 mares treated with the safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccine PZP-22.

Thirty wild horses died during the roundup, 29 of which were euthanized.

That roundup was part of a 10-year plan to reduce the wild horse population to the agency’s Appropriate Management Level of 165. In March 2016, prior to the roundup, BLM estimated the population on the HMA at 957 horses.

RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary is home to two family bands of Sulphur Springs wild horses, led by the stallions Chief and Running Bear. The pure Sulphurs are of Spanish origin, based on phenotype and blood-typing. Many have distinctive dorsal and leg striping.

 Viewing the roundup

Details for BLM-escorted tours will be announced daily on the agency’s gather hotline at (801) 539-4050. Social distancing guidelines will apply. Participants should bring hand sanitizer and should not attend if they feel ill or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within 14 days. 

TAKE ACTION: Send a message to your members of Congress urging them to press BLM on the implementation of safe, proven and humane fertility control so that roundups can be phased out.

TAKE ACTION: Sign our petition calling for a fair share of rangeland resources for wild horses and burros.