by Carol J. Walker, Director of Field Documentation for Wild Horse Freedom Federation
First published on Wild Hoofbeats
I attended the Fifteenmile Wild Horse Roundup last week in a remote and obscure Herd Management Area outside of Worland, Wyoming. Very few people I know had even heard of these horses, and fewer still have visited them. These horses are the wildest that I have visited in my 15 years following wild horses in Wyoming. I have gone to the area 8 times in the last 12 years, and mostly I would see groups of horses through binoculars, and once they saw my vehicle they would be off in a cloud of dust. There have been a few exceptions, brave families more curious than afraid, and I have felt profoundly grateful to get a closer look. This area is truly a spectacular high desert area, with the striated buttes, hoodoos, steep washes, red rocks, just a stunning symphony of landscape over 80,000 acres, unlike anything else I have seen in Wyoming.
When the BLM issued their Scoping Document proposing to roundup and remove these horses down to low AML, my very first question was “why?”
The BLM’s own data shows that 97% of the range is in good shape, and the 3% that is not is not due to either livestock nor horse degradation. These horses had not been rounded up by a helicopter for 10 years – the last roundup was October of 2009 where they left 100 wild horses.The last population estimate had been in January 2016 when the BLM says there were 284 horses. There is no possible way their normal assumption of a 25% per year increase in population was accurate. Since these horses had been left alone for 10 years and the population was not increasing exponentially it seemed to me that studying them instead of rounding up and removing them would be much more useful for management of wild horses. And if they were mandated to remove horses from private lands, the use of bait trapping instead of helicopters would be a much more humane and cost effective way to achieve this. But the BLM did not agree, and began the helicopter roundup using Cattoor Livestock as the contractor on October 18, 2019.
The members of the public attending followed the BLM Public Information Officer to our observation site. We had to walk 1/4 mile down a dirt road then climb a steep, rocky hillside to perch on to observe. But that was not the bad part. We were located 1.5 miles from the trap site, with no view of the horses coming into the trap or the trap itself. We could see through binoculars the vehicles and pens, and occasionally dust flying up but meaningful observation was non-existent. What do I mean by “meaningful observation?” That would be having a clear view of the horses moving toward and then entering the trap close enough to be able to observe details. If close enough, observers can see and document if there are problems, if the horses are sweating had from being run a long way. We can make suggestions to help improve the safety of the wild horses. But that was not available at this roundup. I requested to be moved to a closer spot where we could observe the trap repeatedly. I was just told no, or nothing at all. We were in this location for 4 days, all 4 days they were rounded up wild horses who were within the Herd Management Area boundaries.
If none of the horses had died as a result of injuries from the roundup, then it would not have been so bad. But that was not the case. Four wild horses died due to a “neck injury” which means they broke their necks on the panels. One wild horses was killed by the kick of another horse. They call these “acute” deaths. Seven horses were put down due to “chronic/pre-existing conditions” which ranged from severe infections, to leg deformities and old age with low body score. Eleven wild horses died because of this roundup. You can read my daily blog accounts below.
But the end of the roundup will not mean the end of the deaths of these horses. Two years ago, three months after the Checkerboard Roundup had ended, over 100 wild horses had died in the three short term holding facilities where there were held in Rock Springs, Axtell and Bruneau. This is completely unacceptable. It is causing the deaths of wild horses who had the roundup not happened, would still be alive. The safest place for a wild horse to be is in their home, on the range.
Before the roundup started, the BLM estimated that there were 700 wild horses in the HMA. Their estimate was wrong again. They captured 607 and estimated that 12 were left not captured. They were going to release 100 wild horses but they only released 95, so they estimate there are 107 wild horses left. But these wild horses were not released with their families. They separated mares from stallions and foals from mares when they brought them in. They selected those left by conformation and color. The families have been separated forever.
The BLM did not give birth control to any of the wild horses they released and the explanation for why not is that they are using this herd as a “control group” to study one herd that has never been given birth control. If they were actually going to study them, they should have left all the horses there and studied them. Instead they skewed the sex ratio to 60% stallions to 40% mares. The normal ration is 50-50 but the BLM likes doing this because they say it slows birth rates. They have not studied this. I have seen what it produces in other herds – a lot of family instability and fighting among the stallions. The number they have left is insufficient to ensure genetic stability for this herd. They need to leave 150 breeding age adults at minimum to ensure this. Because of the small number they have left, it is a good thing they did not use birth control which would compromise the genetics even further. But if they are not planning to manage this herd using birth control, they are dooming them instead to being rounded up with helicopters again in a few years.
What will happen to the 489 wild horses that were rounded up and are still alive? Most have been shipped to the BLM Corrals at Rock Springs in Rock Springs, Wyoming. They will remain there with the facility closed until January, 2020 when they will open the facility and people can adopt the 10 and younger horses or buy the horses over 10. Some were shipped to the Honor Farm at Riverton, WY where they will be trained and offered for adoption. The horses over 5 not adopted or sold will most likely be shipped to long term holding facilities.
The number of wild horses being held in short and long term holding by the BLM as of August 1, 2019 was 49,223, and 1641 burros are in short term holding. These facilities include corrals, feed lots, pastures, and 3 “eco-sanctuaries.”
Having seen these gorgeous horses running free, I can tell you that it is a tragedy to see them taken from their families, their horses and their freedom, and face a lifetime of incarceration, or being shipped to slaughter. This is not management, it is annihilation, and we must not allow our wild horses to be rounded up and removed at the rate of 20,000 per year over the next few years as the obscene cattlemen’s “Path Forward” proposes. What do I think we need? We need to remove wild horses from the Bureau of Land Management’s control. There should be a separate agency whose sole purpose is to protect and preserve America’s wild horses on our public lands. Stop the roundups. Do an actual count of all the remaining horses in Herd management Areas in 10 western states. Revise the Appropriate Management Levels in each Herd Management Area to reflect actual range conditions and the “principle species” role of wild horses and to maintain a minimum of 150 breeding aged adult wild horses in each HMA. Retire the livestock grazing leases in all of the Herd Management Areas. Use appropriate, minimal and humane birth control when necessary to maintain numbers, not sterilization. And return the 49, 223 wild horses in short and long term holding facilities to the 22 million acres of Herd Areas that were zeroed out of wild horses and taken away from their use since the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act.
The very best thing you can do to help our wild horses and Burros is to call your Senators and Representatives and tell them you do not support the Path Forward, and use the talking points I listed above.
The Daily Gather Report from the BLM: