“Every wild horse is to be removed from the Checkerboard Lands in the Red Desert in Wyoming because the BLM at the behest of the Rocks Springs Grazing Association is treating this vast area of alternating tracts of private and public land as if they were just private land.”
photos by Carol Walker, music by Bill Webb
It is day two of the Checkerboard Roundup in Wyoming, and I am in a long line of cars with their lights on, as the sky is gradually lightening, headed down I-80. It looks like a funeral procession, and it actually even feels like one to me because I know there is no happy ending for the horses that will be rounded up today. At every other roundup I have attended in the past, at least some of the horses are released back into the range. They might give the mares birth control, or do something stupid ands skew the sex ration of stallions to mares, but still there was hope for some to remain free. Not this time. Every wild horse is to be removed from the Checkerboard Lands in the Red Desert in Wyoming because the BLM at the behest of the Rocks Springs Grazing Association is treating this vast area of alternating tracts of private and public land as if they were just private land. An the horses now must be removed not only from all private land on 2 million acres, but also from all the public land interspersed with it.
We are at the observation area for the first trap site at Great Divide Basin a mile and a half from the trap which we cannot even see. We are told the helicopters will bring the horses by us but I don’t believe it. There is a big group here today including reporter Dave Phillips from the New York Times and yes this is the Dave Phillips who originally lived in Colorado and broke the story about Tom Davis selling those 1700 mustangs to slaughter.
We saw one small group running on a ridge then just the helicopter. We were promised that the horses would run by us. I would call tho non-observation. This is hands down the worst location for viewing I have ever been stuck in at a roundup. – 1 1/2 miles from the trap and we cannot even see it – it and the approach to it are behind a hill.
Whoohoo we moved! We now have a much better spot and can see the large area on the other side of the trap and we are over the ridge that was blocking our view. We still cannot see the trap or the approach to it, but this is the area the horses were coming across earlier.
Now we can see on the ridge a small family led by a grey stallion, with a grulla mare, black foal and an old grey mare that I saw here 2 days ago. She is lame and they are tired, moving slowly toward the trap.
Troy Cattoor comes over on horseback to chat with us while waiting for the helicopter to bring the horses. We have seen the helicopter at a great distance but could not see horses at all for the last couple of hours. I am still here!
A group of 5 big bay and black bachelors ran right by us unexpectedly, Jay yells a heads up to me because I was getting water at my car, and I yell to the rest of the group while running back and we grab our cameras. Then the bachelor group circles around and heads out to the road.
Next two large groups with several families were driven into the valley in front of us along the far ridge and the two helicopters are together, working them all into the trap which is out of our view. There must be about 25 horses all at the same time headed toward the trap.
Finally we get the word that they have finished rounding up for the day. We are headed to the temporary pens to see the horses they removed today. We are told that we can see them after the horses receive food and water.
As soon as we are given the ok we drive into Salt Wells to the temporary holding area for the horses rounded up and Sue Cattoor gave us a tour of the horses. 63 total wild horses lost their freedom forever today: 24 mares, 20 stallions and 19 foals and yearlings. There were mercifully no injuries. The horses looked good, the babies were nursing, and all is pretty quiet except for a grey stallion who was calling to his mares and sparring with the other stallions in his pen.
The interesting thing about the roundup today is that the horses were very difficult to round up. Instead of the large groups they were anticipating, the horses came in in small groups and many only after a long hard chase and much driving back and forth. Most of the older horses have been through this before, and understandably want nothing to do with being trapped and having their families ripped away. And what happens when they are no longer more afraid of the helicopter than they are of being pushed into the trap? How then will the BLM keep rounding them up?
All day people have been commenting on my posts on Facebook, asking what is next, what can we do to end this? I wish I knew. There are no simple answers. I am here because it is what I can do for now.