Plan to Roundup Wild Horses with Choppers has NM Advocates Crying Foul

Story by Staci Matlock as it appears in The New Mexican

“There aren’t appropriate alternatives in the plan…”

A federal agency’s proposal to use helicopters to gather hundreds of wild horses in northwestern New Mexico has mustang advocates up in arms.

The Bureau of Land Management’s New Mexico office plans to round up more than 277 wild horses off the Jicarilla/Carracas Mesa area near Navajo Dam, which is jointly managed with the Carson National Forest.

An estimated 405 mustangs now roam the 76,000-acre Jicarilla Wild Horse Territory of Carson National Forest and 32,000 acres of BLM-controlled land in the Carracas Mesa Wild Horse Herd Area.

Range managers say the herd should be much smaller, 50 to 105 horses, because there’s not enough forage to keep the horses healthy, along with the elk, deer and three dozen cattle that share the area.

The BLM has issued a preliminary environmental plan for gathering the Jicarilla wild horses in January and February. The public has until Tuesday, Nov. 21, to comment on the proposal. The agency received more than 2,500 comments before drafting the plan.

The BLM’s preferred option includes using helicopters, which the agency has used for decades to gather mustangs around the West, despite protests from wild horse advocates.

The last few years, the Carson National Forest has rounded up the horses by baiting them with hay and trapping them in hidden corrals, a method the BLM claims hasn’t been effective in removing enough of the equines from the range.

Wild horse advocates say helicopters frighten the horses and injure more of them during a gather than no-chase methods like bait-and-trap. Plus, they say, there are other choices the BLM could use to reduce the herd size, keep it small and reduce the number of mustangs that end up in costly, long-term holding facilities. Restoring the number of mountain lions — the mustangs’ natural predator — is one. Regularly using and tracking contraception is another.

“We’re saying there aren’t appropriate alternatives in the [plan],” said Patience O’Dowd, longtime advocate and founder of the Wild Horse Observers Association in Placitas.

Dave Evans, district manager for BLM’s Farmington and Taos field offices, said all options are on the table for gathering the mustangs, including helicopters. “Helicopters is just one of the options we’re considering for a big gather,” he said. “We thought a more aggressive tactic could address this problem quickly.”

He added that the BLM intends to administer birth control to most of the mares rounded up, but keep fewer than 100 for adoption. The others will be returned to the range. There simply aren’t enough places to send the rest.

Mustang gathers

The Jicarilla and Carracas wild horse areas are home to rugged mesas and red sandstone canyons. They are also dotted with thousands of oil and natural gas wells, and in the fall, hunters comb the region for elk and deer.

The Carson National Forest’s Jicarilla Ranger District has handled the mustang gathers in the Jicarilla since 1977 because the horses stayed primarily on forest lands. The Forest Service relied on helicopters until 1997, when three horses died during a roundup. Mustang advocates cried foul, contending the roundups harmed the horses and the Forest Service didn’t need to remove so many.

From 1999 to 2004, no wild horses were gathered in the area while the Forest Service analyzed the range and came up with a management plan. In that time, the wild horse herds doubled from 93 to 197 animals, according to Forest Service reports.

The agency’s plan calls for limiting the horses to between 50 and 105 in the Jicarilla territory. Currently, there are an estimated 400 mustangs.

Anthony Madrid, who managed the wild horse program for the Carson National Forest from 2005 until last year and is now the Jicarilla district manager, said the agency agreed with horse advocates to change its roundups, including using helicopters only as a last resort.

Madrid worked with wild horse advocates on using bait-and-trap methods and an equine contraceptive called PZP with the Jicarilla wild horse herds and the Jarita Mesa herd in the El Rito Ranger District.

Gentler methods

The agency has hired Dan Elkins, a contractor out of Grants, for the last five years to handle the bait-and-trap gathers. He works with Karen Herman of Sky Mountain Wild Horse Sanctuary to give contraception to select mares before releasing them. Elkins developed a sophisticated method of coaxing the horses into hidden corrals with food or water and using remotely controlled gates to quietly contain them. He’s gathered 84 mustangs on Jarita Mesa this year alone with no injuries to the animals and helped reduce that horse herd close to the size the Forest Service considers optimal, said El Rito Ranger District supervisor Diana Trujillo.

In 2009, Elkins gathered 125 mustangs off the Jicarilla and another 73 in 2010, but that wasn’t enough to keep up with the number of foals born, and the herds continued to grow.

“Dan has done a great job for us,” said Madrid. “But I would say we have not been able to gather enough horses.”

Mitigating factors make the gathers slower in the Jicarilla than in Jarita Mesa. During hunting season, the Jicarilla horses are more skittish and moving constantly. The territory is larger. And it takes more time to round up the horses using Elkins’ methods.

“Now the population is so high, and gentle methods are not working to keep herd levels under control,” the BLM’s Donna Hummel said.

Helicopters may be the most effective way to quickly bring the population under control, she said. Madrid agrees that in the short run, it may be the best answer.

But longtime mustang advocates like O’Dowd say Elkins’ methods combined with contraception are better, cheaper options to managing the herds than what the BLM has continued to do — round up horses with helicopters, adopt some of them out and put the rest on pastures where the agency has to continue caring for them. Currently, 30,000 wild horses are in BLM facilities.

A crossroads

The Carson National Forest and the BLM are at a crucial junction. The BLM is running out of room for the mustangs that aren’t adopted and recently put out a request for ranchers or other property owners interested in establishing horse sanctuaries.

Madrid said the BLM isn’t accepting horses from the Forest Service now because space is limited. He had been sending most of the horses to a prison program in Cañon City, Colo., where prisoners trained the mustangs before they were adopted out. That program also is full. And the number of mustang adopters has declined in the last couple of years due to the bad economy and the high cost of feed, he said.

“We’re really aiming to find a balance that is a sustainable herd,” Madrid said. “I think the bait-and-trap with contraception will work [in the long term].”

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18 comments on “Plan to Roundup Wild Horses with Choppers has NM Advocates Crying Foul

  1. Balance my ass..WE ALL KNOW WHAT THEIR AGENDA IS…TOTAL ANNIHILATION OF THE SPECIES! The ALMIGHTY BLM..We write, they ignore. We call, they ignore. They thumb their noses in our faces and we just keep nibbling at their heels like a bunch of sniveling puppies. They’re laughing at us because if they take them all away to private contractors before the end of the year when the new regime comes in they will all be gone..nothing left to save.. What’s next? Thanks RT for the update.


  2. Leaving the horses alone does not cost the taxpayer any money!!! NADA. NO $$$$! Why do they (BLM) think they need to spend all that money for nothing? Oh, it is job security for them. It also give those doing the round-ups money in their pockets as they are paid by the head. If they can get a horse in the corral, it is money in their pocket. The BLM is allotted so much money, and they feel they need to spend it.


  3. We all have said and done everything we can , now is the time for us to take some action, talking does nothing , here is what is at stake , no Wild Mustangs , to me that is enough , What will stop them ?????? words, are not enough !!!!! And have never worked ??? NOW WHAT??????Wild Mustangs are a necessity proven !!!!!! And are the best Luxury also we will ever have !!!!!!


    • UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development is implemented worldwide to inventory and control all land, all water, all minerals, all plants, all animals, all construction, all means of production, all information, and all human beings in the world. INVENTORY AND CONTROL

      Agenda 21 policies date back to the 70’s but it got its real start in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro when President Bush signed onto it. Click here to see a list of the countries that signed UN Agenda 21. President Clinton took office the following year and created the President’s Council on Sustainable Development to implement it in the United States. Made up of federal agencies, corporations, and non-profit groups, the President’s Council on Sustainable Development moved quickly to ensure that all federal agencies would change their policies to comply with UN Agenda 21. A non-governmental organization called the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, ICLEI, is tasked with carrying out the goals of Agenda 21 worldwide. Remember: UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development is a global plan that is implemented locally. Over 600 cities in the U.S. are members; our town joined in 2007. The costs are paid by taxpayers.

      It’s time that people educate themselves and read the document and related commentary. After that, get a copy of your city or county’s General Plan and read it. You will find all sorts of policies that are nearly identical to those in U.N. Agenda 21. Unfortunately, their policies have advanced largely unnoticed and we are now in the end game. People need to identify their elected officials who are promoting the U.N.’s policies and hold them accountable for their actions. Only when we’ve identified who the people are and what they are trying to do will we be able to evaluate whether or not we approve of the policies they are putting forward. Some people may think it’s appropriate for agencies outside the United States to set our policies and some people will not. The question is, aren’t Americans able to develop their own policies? Should we rely on anorganization that consists of member nations that have different forms of governments, most of which do not value individual rights as much as we do? It’s time to bring U.N. Agenda 21 out in the open where we can have these debates and then set our own policies in accordance with our Constitution and Bill of Rights. SEE LINK IN PREVIOUS POST–also search U.N. AGENDA 21 on u.n. site. READ, INFORM & then approach your fight from that standpoint or soon, none of is will be able to have land to keep horses safe.


      • Then we need to be getting further along. We must Write Legislation that will keep as many wild ones on the range as possible and BLM out of management. Create new science based management and prevent future interference with new enforceable law. If you don’t like BLM then write them out of the management with a law that covers and protects the wild ones. They are doomed as it stands. Turn it around, folks, with what is available to you! The Law. It needs to be redone and include wild horses on private lands… we need to have an Exclusive Emergency Wild Horse Conference for working out this issue and presenting it and supporting it.

        No matter what we do about lawsuits and roundups this will still remain to be done. When will people see it is in our hands to make change? It can be done and done well. It is up to all of us.

        We have been pulled and distracted in many different directions but the Direct Route to change is to make the laws over so they create the situation we want. This makes us responsible for studies to be done also in order to base our law on science also.

        Where is our power and ability to make this happen? Split up among power plays by groups and individuals who have no long term answers and have ignored science along with BLM. The correct elements need to be put together and used to get where we must go in order to have a future with wild ones in it. Agenda 21 and all considered.


      • So few people know about this. So glad you have brought it here. Too bad you didn’t before the election or maybe you didn’t and it was missed. Obama is standing tall with the UN for a One World Government. And all these changes are moving very fast especially now that the election is over and he has his power back.


  4. “Currently, 30,000 wild horses are in BLM facilities.” Well, well, where did the other 20,000 go? hmmm. blm ignored public input as usual. blm exaggerates real populations as usual. blm sets aml below genetic viabiltiy as usual. “estimated” 400 horses is way too many for 108,000 acres as usual. blm won’t remove cows and prefer wasting tax dollars as usual.


  5. PLEASE don’t do anything foolish or violent!!! I’m part of the recently-formed New Mexico Wild Horse Alliance, and, with some creativity and cooperation from the BLM, we KNOW we can find homes for the removed horses. Just not all at once. Getting nasty with the BLM will only make it more difficult for us. You have absolutely no idea what will happen to the Jicarilla and Caraccas Mesa/Rosa wild horses if they AREN’T removed! Please oppose helicopters, support DAN ELKINS bait trapping, and fertility control using PZP-22 (no other drug or method!), but not the removals themselves.


    • Linda, Isn’t it time to tell these people what has been going on down there ? The fence is down and there are BLM wild horses mixed with reservation owned semi wild but privately owned horses. BLM did not want to continue with the successful bait trapping and gentling in Farmington with several local trainers that the Forest Service had. The Forest Service did give up their management of these horses and gave it to BLM. What a shame. And if the fence had been fixed and kept up then other things we know about may not have been going on.

      I am not mentioning the elephant in the room. But there is one.


      • Lets face it the BLM has been letting domestics run with the wild ones for years now so they could say they were feral. If they had done DNA blood tests we could have saved the true Spanish herds. But that’s now what the BLM wanted. They want them all gone and watering down the gene pool was there first step.


  6. RT, thank you as always for keeping those of us who truly love the wild horses pointed in the right direction. Instead of making comments here we need to be submitting our comments to the BLM, and comment on article in The New Mexican. We need to be calling our congressment, senators, The President. We need to write letters, have our children write letters, have our grandchildren right letters. We need to educate the public so there will be such an outcry against this abuse that it will have to be answered. Wild Horse Annie did it in 1971 – we can sure as hell do it now.


  7. Choppers no ….absolutely not. Why not invest in the region with added vegetation? The land mass should be able to encompass more resources. Water may be trucked in and used to keep the added vegetation nourishing for all the animals. Hardly a cost to land management considered the alternatives.


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