Swasey Mountains HMA (Utah) roundup update: 525 wild horses captured, two killed

/ In The News, News, Roundups
Wild horses on the Swasey Mountains Herd Management Area. Photo by Robert Hammer.

Through Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management captured 525 wild horses during its helicopter roundup on the Swasey Herd Management Area in Utah.

Two wild horses have been killed: On Tuesday, one horse was euthanized for an unspecified preexisting condition. On Saturday, July 18, a 5-year-old mare died after suffering a broken neck caused by colliding with a panel.

The agency plans to remove 550 wild horses from the HMA. About 30 mares are to be returned to the range after receiving intrauterine devices or being treated with the fertility control vaccine Gonacon, according to planning documents.

The BLM is justifying the removal due to “declining rangeland health and overpopulation of wild horses.”

RTF opposes the use of IUDs based on past studies. The IUDs to be used on “up to 10 mares” are a newer technology made of a soft, anchor-shaped silicone but RTF remains opposed to their use until they are shown to be safe, humane and effective. According to the BLM’s planning documents, if the IUDs are shown to be effective after two years of observation, additional mares may receive them. It is expected that the IUDs will eventually fall out.

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.

The Swasey HMA is located in Juab and Millard Counties, about 50 miles west of Delta, Utah. The BLM estimates that there are about 865 wild horses, including this year’s foals, on the HMA, which is made up of 120,113 acres of federal and state land. The agency-set Appropriate Management Level for the HMA is 60-100 wild horses, or as low as one horse for every 2,002 acres.

By comparison, 35-95% of four livestock allotments overlap the HMA. Those allotments are authorized to use 13,954 Animal Unit Months of forage. Actual use over the past four years has averaged about 10,910 AUMs, overwhelmingly used for sheep. One AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow, five sheep or five goats for a month.

Wild horses that are removed from the range will be offered for adoption of sale.

No start date was announced for the start of the helicopter roundup, but the agency’s tentative calendar places it on or around July 15.

Read BLM’s planning documents here.

Send a message to your members of Congress urging them to press BLM on the implementation of safe, proven and humane fertility control.