By BRENDAN LACHANCE, Oil City News Correspondent
CASPER — The American Wild Horse Campaign on Monday criticized a wild horse roundup being conducted in Wyoming that it says is the largest such operation in the Bureau of Land Management’s history.
The wild horse protection advocacy group said that at the time of its press release on Monday, the BLM had captured a total of 2,383 wild horses in the operation and that 11 horses had reportedly died. Those deaths include two wild mares who died Sunday “after breaking their necks while crashing into panels after being chased into a trap by a helicopter.”
The BLM on Monday reported an additional death of one horse and on Tuesday reported two more deaths of wild horses during the round-up operations, including an 11 year old stallion that suffered a broken leg and a 12 year old mare that suffered a ruptured uterus. An additional 132 horses were gathered on Tuesday, according to the BLM.
The American Wild Horse Campaign said in the release Monday that it was “demanding action today after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released nearly 60 fewer wild horses back to Wyoming’s public lands than required as part of a controversial operation in the state.”
The BLM round-up began in October and is expected to last into February 2022, according to the release. The round-up is targeting five federally-protected wild horse herds in the Rock Springs area.
“Once the operation is completed, nearly 50 percent of the state’s mustang population will be gone,” the American Wild Horse Campaign said.
The campaign said that its attorneys sent a letter on Monday claiming “that the BLM unlawfully removed 59 more wild horses than authorized in its Environmental Assessment and Decision Record for the roundup and must rectify the violation by returning this number of animals back to the range in order to avoid legal action.”
“In its attempt to hide from the public that too many horses are being removed from the Salt Wells Creek HMA and too few are being returned to their homes, the Bureau of Land Management once again proves that the public cannot trust them to follow their own protocols or to protect and properly manage the wild horses in their care,” Carol Walker, a wild horse photographer who has been observing the round-up, said in the release from the American Wild Horse Campaign.
The campaign said that the BLM released 42 stallions back into the Salt Wells Creek Herd Management Area on Friday and that 45 more mares were set to be released this week after being given fertility control.
“In our view, BLM has unlawfully taken the Salt Wells Creek HMA below low AML [appropriate management level] by removing more horses than analyzed or authorized … in flagrant violation of [federal law],” Attorney William S. Eubanks, Esquire is cited in the release. “[I]f BLM commits to immediately rectifying these legal violations by returning at least 59 more stallions and mares to the Salt Wells Creek HMA (in addition to the 42 stallions already returned and the 45 treated mares BLM intends to return this week), AWHC will agree not to pursue litigation seeking a court order that BLM’s actions have violated, and are violating, its duties under federal law.”
The BLM says that its Rock Springs gather aims to remove about wild horses from five herd management areas in southwest Wyoming. Ahead of the operation, the BLM said that the areas have a wild horse population of around 5,105 horses, “which is more than double the combined appropriate management level of 1,550-2,145 horses.”
“The gather is being conducted to address the overpopulation on the HMAs, prevent deterioration of the rangeland due to the overpopulation, remove horses from private lands and areas not designated for their long-term use, and comply with the 2013 Consent Decree between the Rock Springs Grazing Association and the BLM,” the BLM states. “The BLM plans to remove approximately 3,500 horses to return wild horse populations to within the appropriate management levels. BLM estimates that around 800 animals that are gathered will be returned to the range. Any mare returned to an HMA will be treated with temporary fertility control. Managing wild horses at appropriate levels allows BLM to maintain rangeland and wild horse heard health and reduce trespass onto private land and highways.”
The BLM is utilizing a federal contractor to gather wild horses.
“The contractor uses a helicopter to locate and herd horses toward a set of corrals,” the agency states. T”he helicopter is assisted by a ground crew and a domesticated horse to lead the gathered horses into the corrals. If needed, the ground crew may assist the helicopter by roping wild horses from horseback.”
“The BLM takes the humane treatment of wild horses and burros during gather operations very seriously. Helicopters have been shown to be the most humane method to gather horses.”
Horses removed during the gather are being transported to BLM holding facilities where it is then determined “where the horses will be freeze branded, vaccinated, dewormed and given a Coggins test,” the BLM states. “The corrals receiving the horses from the gathers will not be taking requests from the public to hold specific horses.”
“Some of the horses may also be taken to the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton or the Mantle Adoption and Training Facility in Wheatland for gentling before being made available for adoption,” the BLM adds. “Gathered wild horses will be available for adoption through the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program.”