Mustang roundups reduced but advocates still angry

Free-ranging horses from the Onaqui Herd, near Dugway, Utah.
Free-ranging horses from the Onaqui Herd, near Dugway, Utah. © BLM/Utah

The Bureau of Land Management intends to nearly halve its pace of removals for the 2013 financial year, but warns that the situation may change as drought conditions bite.

The bureau has announced its summer muster schedule, saying it will target 1300 wild horses and burros. Overall, it plans to remove about 4800 animals from the range in fiscal year 2013, compared to 8255 in the 2012 financial year.

The announcement was greeted with dismany by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), which said it was “business as usual” for the bureau, despite a report last month by the National Academy of Sciences which proposed much greater use of contraceptives instead of roundups.

“The agency still has not gotten the message that the removal of wild horses from our western public lands is inhumane, unsustainable, unscientific and must come to an end,” AWHPC communications director Suzanne Roy said.

“The BLM is galloping ahead with rounding up more wild horses, despite the high cost to taxpayers and animals, as well as the findings of an independent scientific review, which recommends against continued roundups.”

The bureau said its program was subject to change because of continuing drought conditions across the western rangelands that were resulting in significantly limited water and forage for wildlife, wild horses and burros, and livestock.

It said it was monitoring animal and range conditions, reducing livestock grazing, enacting fire restrictions, and providing supplemental water in some locations for wild horses.

Most of the gathers on the schedule will use bait and water-trapping to attract, gather, and remove animals to off-range pastures and corrals over the next several months, it said.

“Because of access constraints, lack of suitable bait-water trapping sites, and the need for more immediate action related to animal condition, six of the proposed gathers will be conducted using helicopters,” the agency said.

It said the reduced program was a result of off-range holding-capacity limits and funding constraints.

It continued: “Most of the upcoming gathers have been scheduled in response to emergency conditions brought on by drought; public safety issues related to animals that roam near highways, residential areas, and agricultural areas; and requests from private landowners who have asked the BLM to remove from their property wild horses and burros that have strayed beyond Herd Management Area boundaries.”

The agency does not intend to administer fertility-control vaccine during any of the proposed summer musters, except for some re-treatments of mares in the Little Bookcliffs wild horse range in Colorado. Instead, it intends to implement fertility-control treatments through ground-darting operations and during gathers between November and February – before breeding season – when the vaccines’ maximum effectiveness can be realized.

The bureau said it was committed to provided as much public access to the roundups as possible.

The AWHPC said the proposed 2013 schedule would be adding animals to holding facilities that were already at capacity, with 50,000 wild horses and burros “stockpiled at taxpayer expense”.

It claimed the agency was cloaking the proposed removals as emergencies, but argued many of the roundups were unnecessary and were not emergencies, such as those proposed for Murderers Creek, Oregon; Little Book Cliffs, Colorado; and Snowstorms, Fish Lake, and Hickison, all in Nevada.

“The intensive and unjustified mustang removal plan comes despite last month’s recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommendations against further roundups and in favor of an intensive fertility-control program,” the AWHPC said.

Neda DeMayo, the president of Return to Freedom, AWHPC’s founding organization, said: “The BLM must begin immediately to manage wild horses on the range.

“The federal government has the technology to minimize wild horse removals by managing horses on their rangelands as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.

“With 50,000 wild horses in government holding facilities, we are hopeful that Interior Secretary Sally Jewel will step in and change BLM’s business as usual practices – or the threat of slaughter will continue to hang over the heads of warehoused wild horses.”

The AWHPCA said the schedule included many “non-emergency” roundups, including 50 horses from the famed Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range in Colorado.

The group called it a perfect example of the BLM’s refusal to properly implement fertility control.

The founder of Wild Horse Education, Laura Leigh, this week voiced concern that the bureau had used drought as a “panic button” in the last two years to broaden musters.

“It is ironic that the BLM handbook does dot consider drought an emergency situation because issues involving drought do not arise in an immediate fashion but develop over time.

“Yet in the wild horse and burro program drought issues are left unaddressed until ‘drought’ can cause the same emotional response as the word ‘fire’,” said Leigh, who travels the western rangeland monitoring roundups.

“The recent National Academy of Science report, which evaluated BLM wild horse and burro operations, highlights many areas where insufficient data, lack of foresight, and an absence of common sense have driven the BLM wild herd program into disaster.”

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