Horse News

Wild Horse Advocates Cry Foul on Cusp of Enormous Roundup Stampede, Removal

The BLM plans to capture 4,300 native, wild equines in southwest Wyoming starting Thursday

Recent Wyoming roundup. Photo by Carol Walker

Federal contract wranglers plan to round up 4,300 wild horses in southwest Wyoming — permanently removing about 70% of them — starting Thursday in an undertaking that culminates years of conflicts among land and wildlife managers, ranchers and horse advocates.

The roundup across 3.4 million acres of “checkerboard” land ownership could last more than a month, said Brad Purdy, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman. The agency will permanently remove — for adoption, training and domestic use — about 3,500 horses. About 800 would be set free again after treating mares in that group with temporary fertility control.

The goal is to maintain rangeland health, reduce trespass onto 899,308 acres of private land — much owned by the Rock Springs Grazing Association — and maintain an “appropriate management level” of between 1,550 and 2,415 wild horses, the BLM says. Today an estimated 5,105 wild horses, some known as mustangs but all technically “feral” horses because of their domestic ancestry, populate the BLM’s five “horse management areas” around Rock Springs.

Rock Springs Grazing Association Land Operations Manager Don Schramm called the operation “long overdue.” Blaming ranchers for wild horse roundups is “totally inaccurate,” he said, citing BLM plans that set population levels.

“The current roundup is to reduce the numbers down to that,” he said.

This month’s roundup will address immediate wild horse management aims as the BLM studies whether to remove all wild horses from some of the troublesome “checkerboard” lands along the Union Pacific Railroad where every other square mile is private.

Wyoming lawmakers are considering a measure that would bill the federal government for horse trespass and heard testimony last month that wild horses damage greater sage grouse habitat. One member of the Joint Agriculture State and Public Lands & Water Resources Interim Committee discussed opening a dog-food plant on the Wind River Indian Reservation, where horses are said to damage wildlife habitat.

In Rock Springs, some say the roundup threatens recent economic diversification efforts. Meantime wild horse advocates contest many of the BLM’s justifications for the upcoming roundup and question the balance the agency proposes between horses and ranchers’ grazing stock.

The BLM has set the population levels in the five horse-management areas far below a benchmark known as the “thriving natural ecological balance” threshold, Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, wrote in an email. The proposed population level is based on allocating 91% of available forage to domestic stock, he wrote.

“This appears to be a serious violation of the federal statute on wild horses, invalidating the legality of this enormous roundup,” Molvar said. Nevertheless, the BLM will forge ahead with its gather this week, agency spokesman Richard Packer said Friday.

Tribal dog food factory?

Grazing association representative Schramm said worries by wildlife advocates illustrate that the BLM roundup is not simply a conflict with stock grazers. Delays in holding roundups have kept the BLM from meeting its population goals and compounded the problem.

“Unfortunately, due to one reason or another, they’ve been unable to maintain horses at that level,” he said. Yet horse numbers can increase by 20% a year, he said.

“The longer they wait, the harder the job,” Schramm said.

As arrangements for the roundup proceed, the BLM is finalizing its long-range plan and the Legislature’s interim agriculture committee is set to consider two wild horse and burro bills Oct. 21. The panel in September worked on a precursor draft measure that would essentially bill the federal government for the grazing costs of trespassing horses.

Lawmakers don’t believe the government would pay up, but the draft legislation would require the Office of State Lands and Investments to calculate the “grazing cost” of trespassing horses and submit that to appropriate U.S. agencies.

The bill also would allow the Wyoming Attorney General to file a writ of mandamus seeking to compel the federal government “to take action to remove excess wild horses as required under federal law from affected nonfederal lands.” Finally, the bill would authorize the governor to negotiate with federal and tribal officials to manage wild horses.

Horses are “starting to outnumber our wildlife,” Arthur Lawson, director of the Shoshone and Arapaho Fish and Game, told the committee, and are causing serious environmental damage. Some of that is occurring on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department 35,000-acre Spence-Moriarity habitat unit near Dubois that’s set aside for elk winter range, said

Pat Hnilicka, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who is an advisor to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. Horses can be viewed “as invasives, as weeds in a sense, because they … spread,” he said.

Committee member Rep. Bill Fortner (R-Gillette) saw an opportunity for another way to deal with wild horses outside adoption.

“Would you be open for slaughter for a dog-food factory or something like that on the reservation … a dog-food factory and slaughter of the horses that’s not on federal land?” he asked tribal representatives. “You guys can get away with things — being an independent nation — that we can’t get away with.”

Approval for such an endeavor would have to come from both Shoshone and Arapaho tribal councils, Lawson said.

Meanwhile, wild horses are a threat to greater sage grouse, a species struggling to persist in the sagebrush sea, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says. “There’s also a growing body of evidence to even suggest that too many wild horses on the landscape may affect our sage grouse populations,” Angi Bruce, Wyoming Game and Fish Deputy Director for external operations told the committee. “If we continue at a rate of increase [among wild horses of] about 20% a year, we can see as much as 70% decline in the sage grouse population,” she said, referring to a U.S. Geological Survey study in Nevada.

She cautioned that the Nevada study might not be directly applicable to Wyoming. “But if it’s anywhere reflective of what may [happen] in Wyoming, it’s very alarming,” she said.

Ranchers, too, back the BLM, RSGA’s Schramm said of the coming roundup. “We appreciate BLM trying to do it.”

We’ll ride them someday?

The BLM gather will be “the largest roundup in history,” Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, said in a statement. She, also, questioned whether there was balance in the roundup plan, saying the BLM land belongs to all Americans, “not just the livestock operators who receive steep tax subsidies to graze their cattle and sheep here.”

The BLM’s Purdy questioned the assertion that the roundup would be record-setting. “I don’t think that is 100% accurate,” he wrote in an email. The Red Desert gather between 2018 and 2020 collected about the same number of horses as this year’s target, albeit over three years, he said.

In Rock Springs, the BLM’s imminent roundup and pending long-term plan will diminish one of the town’s premiere visitor attractions just as the area is seeking to diversify its economy as the fossil fuel economy falters, a city council member told WyoFile. When he worked the information booth at a high school rodeo, Councilman Tim Savage said, “the main thing these rodeo people wanted to do was see wild horses out on the plains.

“That’s going to change,” he said. “Why are we spending all this money attempting to diversify our economy when we are going to do this?” he asked of the roundups and reductions.

Rock Springs is a way-stop for tourists enroute to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Savage said. “We try to get them to stay an extra day,” he said, and the Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop north of town is an important attraction toward that end.

“There’s a lot of people out there who are concerned,” he said, citing emails, phone calls and letters he’s seen. “I definitely think there’s going to be an impact.”

Wild horse photographer Carol Walker called the BLM roundup “a race to remove as many of these animals from our public lands as possible with no consideration for the very uncertain fate that faces them.” She was referencing reports that some horse adopters, who can receive money from the government to feed adopted horses for a period, ultimately resell them.

Those resale auctions are “frequented by slaughterhouse brokers known as kill buyers,” the New York Times wrote in May.

“Our wild horses belong on our public lands,” Walker said in a statement, “wild and free with their families, not in long-term feedlots or dumped at kill auctions by greedy and heedless adopters.”

A group representing public employees also challenged the BLM’s grazing allocation, saying wild horses are being blamed for overgrazing by domestic stock. The roundup threatens faith in the agency’s science, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility wrote Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

The BLM’s own data “show that more than 15 million acres of priority sage grouse habitat fail to meet BLM’s own minimum standards for quality of water, vegetation, and soils, as well as the ability to support wildlife, due to overgrazing,” Tim Whitehouse, the group’s executive director, wrote Haaland on Sept. 20. He called BLM’s approach “the antithesis of sound science.”

“While wild horses certainly impact sage grouse habitat,” his letter reads, “to focus conservation efforts for this habitat on addressing impacts made by thousands of wild horses, while ignoring troves of data on the impacts from millions of cattle, undermines your efforts to create a culture of scientific integrity at [the Department of the Interior].”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at or (307)… More by Angus M. Thuermer Jr.


10 replies »

  1. So they want to slaughter the horses and turn them into dog food?? I also read an article from a year or so ago where someone wanted to suggest having a stallion hunt, but knew the backlash if that happened would be huge…Why dont they admit that cattle do just as much to the land as horses. And why not admit that some hunting clubs have their hand in the push to rid public lands of anything they think interferes with their ability to hunt along with a huge ranching/farming organization.. for the most part the general public has no idea what goes on or is happening to the horses, its not like things like this makes the nightly news across the country.. its a disgrace and horrifying the things people do and then try to justify it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cattle do the most damage to the land than Wild Horses could EVER do! This is just a lame excuse the ranchers/cattlemen use for their horrendous killing of OUR Wild Horses & use of OUR Public Lands! Good comments yourself.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Wyoming is a “fence out” state, meaning if you don’t want wildlife or livestock on your private land, you are required to fence them out. The Checkerboard is just that – alternating squares of public and private land — but the RSGA has for decades tried and succeeded in getting the BLM to remove horses from … the public land! Since the private land is NOT fenced, there is no expectation wild horses and other wildlife won’t wander over invisible boundary lines in search of food and water. It’s also very long established that the RSGA grazes privately owned livestock across most of the Checkerboard’s public lands, and whopping government (taxpayer) subsidized rates.

    It’s also clear wild horses and sage grouse evolved together on this continent (their ancestral homelands), but this is not true for domestic sheep and cattle, absolutely introduced by colonizers. Even Bison arrived thousands of years later than the oldest horse skeletons found so far in N. America.

    Why are horses always the villians, and why aren’t these concerned people lobbying instead for a slaughter plant for cattle and sheep on the reservations? They produce such a small amount of human food anyways, maybe they could make a better profit selling livestock for pet food. We are not raising wild horses on public lands, and public cost, simply to provide pet food products that will make some few independent contractors wealthy by ripping off taxpayers.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. From a preeminent organization focused on Sage Grouse:

    “During the months before the roundup, field visits by WWP and others documented that poor range conditions on parts of the Onaqui Mountain Wild Horse Herd Management Area frequented by cattle and sheep were caused by BLM-authorized cattle and sheep overgrazing. Habitats far from water where wild horses grazed remained in good shape, and the horses themselves were in good condition. To add insult to injury, the agency authorized cattle grazing on about 32,000 acres of the HMA fenced off for multiple years for post-fire recovery; this “grass bank,” unavailable to the wild horse herd, was turned over to livestock industry instead, even as the agency removed wild horses on the pretext of insufficient forage. …

    The fiscally responsible alternative is to manage wild horse populations on western public lands, and remove the cattle and sheep instead. Federal regulations specifically provide, “If necessary to provide habitat for wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros from disease, harassment or injury, the authorized officer may close appropriate areas of the public lands to grazing use by all or a particular kind of livestock.” In April, more than 70 conservation and animal advocacy groups asked Interior Secretary Haaland to remove all livestock from wild horse HMAs.

    On the final day of the roundup, observers were told that the horses were actually in good condition, and forage was no longer a concern, but the roundup was justified due to a lack of sufficient water to sustain the horses in light of the drought. But the drought wasn’t an issue when the emergency roundup was approved. The taxpayer cost of trucking water out to Onaqui over the summer is far less than a helicopter-based roundup, costing tens of thousands of dollars a day for the better part of week.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This whole sick mess is all caused by livestock ranchers as we all know. Nothing will change until the word comes from D.C. I don’t look for that anytime soon. Lots of money goes to peoples campaign fund and they sure don’t want to lose do they? People need to told what’s going on so there would be a lot more voices heard from in Wash.
    This crap about the Sage Bush is such a lie! They’re fine as were the horses until ranchers started putting their millions of livestock on our public lands at taxpayers expense. Keep yelling people don’t give up!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Here’s a reality check folks. Even if we had 100,000 total wild horses left on the range, if they were all lined up for slaughter they’d be dead and gone in less than one day.


    St Joseph, MO Fri Oct 08, 2021 USDA Market News
    Daily Livestock Slaughter under Federal Inspection

    Friday 10/08/2021 116,000 1,000 477,000 4,000
    Week ago 107,000 1,000 467,000 4,000
    Year ago (act) 112,000 2,000 485,000 5,000
    Week to date 599,000 6,000 2,373,000 33,000
    Same Period Last Week 580,000 6,000 2,353,000 31,000
    Same Period Last Year (act) 584,000 8,000 2,438,000 35,000

    2021 Year to Date 25,628,00 284,000 98,398,000 1,460,000
    2020 *Year to Date 24,813,00 347,000 100,283,000 1,468,000
    Percent change 3.3% -18.2% -1.9% -0.5%
    2021 *Totals subject to revision
    2020 *Totals adjusted to reflect NASS revisions

    Yearly totals may not add due to rounding
    Previous day Steer and Heifer Cow and Bull
    Thursday 94,000 26,000

    Source: USDA Livestock, Poultry, and Grain Market News Division, St Joseph, MO
    816-676-7000 e-mail:


    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yes and who cares? Not the Government that’s for sure! Ask/tell Sec. of Interior to do her job to get all the cattle/sheep off OUR Public Lands. We need to stop subsidizing these rich ranchers/cattlemen! Also tell Tom Vilsack Sec. of Agriculture to do his part to help Horses! I’m ashamed that he was our X Gov.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. We need more voices to be heard against Wild Horses treatment! We need to drown out the tight grip the ranchers/cattlemen have on D.C. People can save OUR Horses & OUR Public Lands if we had more voices! If 80% of the American people are against slaughter where are 80% of their voices?! Need to be heard!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

Care to make a comment?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.