Horse News

Noted Wild Horse Photographer Exposes BLM Grazing Threat at Sand Wash Basin

By Carol Walker as published on Wild Hoofbeats

The Wild Horse Herd is still there but so are Hundreds of Privately Owned Sheep

In the last month, I have visited and photographed the horses of Sand Wash Basin on two trips.  I had the wonderful experience of having Nancy Roberts go with me on one day on each trip, and she is the advocate who has spent the most time out in the herd area with the horses, observing and photographing and keeping track of them, so she had some wonderful stories to share with me about the horses.

Unfortunately I saw sheep, hundreds of them, on the eastern part of the horse range, and even got to watch as the herders had to use a horse (a mustang) to tow out sheep that had gotten stuck in the mud at a waterhole.

This herd was rounded up in 2008 by the BLM using the contractor Cook, and I was there – it was horrific with horses being rammed into panels and a mare being trampled.   Here is the link to the You Tube slideshow I did on this roundup: b

Since then, HSUS has been conducting a 4 year birth control study on the herd.

The last time I had been out to see the horses was in October last year, and I stayed on the western portion of the range, where most of the horses were.  I found out that shortly after I left, sheep were turned out in that part of the range (the fall and winter forage area for the horses) and left there until April.  This has had disastrous consequences for the range.  There were some areas that were so barren that all were left were dirt and rocks.

This winter has been one of the driest on record for Colorado with almost no moisture, and now many of the summer waterholes are drying up.  The BLM has said that they will haul water for the horses if needed, but I am concerned because the BLM has been talking about “emergency roundups” that may be necessary this summer. My question is where are they going to put the horses that are removed, given that the holding facilities are all at or near capacity?

Click (HERE) to read Carol’s blog in it’s entirety and to view her many fine photos

16 replies »

    • If you look at the fence-line contrast along Sevenmile ridge, you’ll see a striking difference in both the amount of forage and plant community health. Sheep are grazed seasonally on both sides of this fence. Horses, however, graze year round on the poor side of the fence.


  1. What a disgrace…..our poor horses are being removed for damaging the range?! Great article Carol and thanks for sharing your beautiful photos.


  2. B.L.M. knows exactly what they’re doing!! If they can get sheep on there to destroy the range, than they can come back saying that they have to remove the horses! NOT THE SHEEP!!!! They are doing it with every intention of being able to go in and destroy every last horse.


    • The 2011 Little Snake Resource Management Plan sets forth the policy to manage for the horses and seasonal sheep use. This plan will be in effect for the next 20 years and reflects a continuation of the management that occurred over the last 30 plus years. If you have a problem with this, you a free to appeal this plan, but since it gives you what you all seem to want, I’d hesitate.


  3. Thank you, Carol. Your photos certainly tell the story. If I remember correctly the Sand Wash Basin horses were recently captured down to a herd size below a genetically healthy herd. This fact, in addition to the herd being segmented by numerous fences and thus unable to intermingle … points toward a future that is not bright for this herd. The wild ones are so magnificent … and this “managing to extinction” is so wrong.


  4. In Scotland sheep were known as “land lice”. The Scottish Clearances, forced evictions, happened because wealthy Englishmen and traitorous Scottish clan chiefs wanted the land for sheep. The countryside was stripped of trees for sheep. Sheep ranching is a blight, they eat the grass down to the roots; horses don’t do that, they can’t. In medieval times, there were strict rules forbidding sheep to graze until after the horses and cattle had been fed – because they were so destructive to pasture.


    • Sandwash has supported sheep grazing for over a century, along with much of the region. Since there is obviously plenty of feed available to support both the horses, the largest elk herds in North America, mule deer, and pronghorn, the seasonal sheep use of these desert ranges appears to be sustainable to me. By the way, the sheep are only there a few weeks out of the year and consume forage at a rate that is a drop in the bucket compared to all other herbivores in the basin. The horses are there year round, and since grasses and browse do not get a break from horse herbivory, managing appropriate numbers is crucial for not only the forage, but for the horses themselves. Horses also are capable of ripping grasses out by the roots. Perennial grass abundance has declined dramatically in many areas of the basin that sheep never access.


  5. Over 22 MILLION ACRES have been taken from America’s WH&B. That land needs to given back to them. There’s PLENTY of room for all of them. We need to build our Wild Herds back up to a genetically viable level.
    22.2 million: Number of acres WH&B have lost since 1971
    – 21,354: WH&B population as of 2/28/11 using BLM’s own data & 20% growth model (independent analysis
    Compiled by Carla Bowers,10/26/11, Revised 11/6/11
    For NAS/NRC Study Panel of BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program
    – All numbers above are verifiable


  6. Excerpts from Debbie Coffey’s open letter to BLM. Her entire letter can be read at PPJ Gazette. This is in Nevada. Wyoming is also a treasure trove of natural resources.
    Public Comment on Battle Mountain District Drought Management Plan
    May 16, 2012 by
    Debbie Coffey
    “This COCKAMAMIE BLM “Drought Management Plan” is just another example of the mismanagement of our public lands by the Bureau of Land Management.”

    Your office can respond rapidly RIGHT NOW by curtailing man-made causes of drought. Don’t write a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for uses of public lands that use massive quantities of water from aquifers, risk contaminating water, cause disturbance of thousands of acres and loss of native soil profiles, and will take 25 years for reclamation.

    It seems the BLM is in violation of FLPMA by favoring and fast-tracking uses that make more money.
    To remove wild horses & burros and livestock as a “Drought Management Plan,” is akin to a firefighter running into a burning house just to carry out some rugs, instead of trying to put out the fire.

    Does the BLM consider CUMULATIVE effects of all of the uses of water? Quickly adding up just the few uses above, just these few mines use about 18,000 gallons of water per minute (and possibly over 50,000 gallons of water per minute with dewatering). But the BLM frets over the 15 gallons of water a day that a wild horse drinks and claims wild horses are “degrading the range?”
    Maybe some of the mines will give you a little water to haul out to the wild horses & burros and livestock.

    BLM has sold hundreds of acres of public lands in Railroad Valley for oil and gas lease sales. Drilling removes enormous amounts of water, frequently pumping thousands of gallons of water per well. Will the BLM identify all of the fluids/chemicals being injected into the oil shale and risking contamination of groundwater and the aquifers?
    Geothermal also uses fracking, so same question: Will the BLM identify all of the fluids/chemicals being injected and risking contamination of groundwater and the aquifers?
    Solar projects are being fast-tracked, and they can use massive amounts of water.


  7. I am glad someone is finally realizing the real problem out at Sand Wash Basin. Time to put the sheep in trucks and give them a ride across the 20 miles of The HMA. There are not hundreds of sheep..there are thousands! Some of them are in through the winter. It is bad management. If they were not there you would hardly even notice the horses plus the elk and other animals would have food. Time for the sheep to move. They make a mess of this beautiful place. Shame on those ranchers for making such a mess!


  8. Chemical vasectomies are not happening in Sand Wash Basin, stop the hysteria. There is a non-profit group working directly with the BLM to support the horses of Sand Wash Basin called the Sand Wash Advocate Team (SWAT). They have been busy getting a PZP Program in place and have spent many hours preparing and darting mares this past spring. If you want to be a part of the group that works directly for the horses, instead of spinning out on social media, join them. Stop talking and do something positive. It’s going to take a village of on the ground supporters and virtual supporters to make this PZP program a success. Take a look at McCullough Peaks, Little Bookcliffs, Assateague Island, the Pryor Mountains…it’s working. If it is a success, there would be no reason to search out other herd management options, like chemical vasectomies.
    Reach out and help make a difference:


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