Tensions build in debate over Utah’s wild horses

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

The debate over the management of wild horses in Utah is heating up, following the capture of eight animals by federal officials and threats by ranchers to conduct their own roundups if authorities are too slow to act.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) accused the Bureau of Land Management of caving into pressure from ranchers, following news that the bureau had removed eight wild horses from public lands in southwestern Utah.

The AWHPC, a coalition of more than 60 organizations, called on the bureau and state officials to resolve the conflicts with ranchers, who view wild horses as competition for cheap grazing on public lands.

“This is a solve-able issue,” the group said in a statement.

“Wild horses range on just one-tenth of the BLM land available for livestock grazing in Utah. There are 3000 wild horses in the state – that’s one horse per more than 700 acres of land.

“It is unfortunate that the BLM is caving to pressure from ranchers in southwestern Utah and rounding up wild horses from public lands there.

“The preservation of wild horses on our western public lands is strongly supported by the American public while livestock grazing on public lands is not.”

The group suggested that the wild horse population in the Bible Springs Complex, which is at issue in Iron County, appear to be wildly exaggerated.

It said the bureau’s projected population of 777 wild horses represented a 41 percent increase over the agency’s 2013 estimates, something that was biologically impossible and contradicted by the bureau’s own claims that range conditions were deteriorating to the point that horses have died as a result.

“Even if true, a population of one horse per 229 acres cannot be considered overpopulation, particularly when twice as many livestock are still authorized to graze on the same public lands.”

The group accused the bureau of continuing to ignore potential solutions.

“The National Academy of Sciences warned that the BLM’s practice of removing large numbers of wild horses from the range was fueling higher population growth and that ‘continuation of business as usual practices will be expensive and unproductive for the BLM and the public it serves’.

“The prestigious scientific body was clear that available birth control is a more affordable option than continuing to remove horses to long-term holding facilities.

“Yet the agency is capitulating to radical ranchers by proposing to remove more horses from the range and failing to use birth control as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.

“This just continues the same broken approach to wild horse management that is costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually and robbing our iconic wild horses of their families, their freedom and their lives.”

Meanwhile, Utah Wildlife Board members voted unanimously at a meeting in Salt Lake City on Thursday to write to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and US Bureau of Land Management state director Juan Palma urging a reduction in horses on the range.

It follows a lawsuit filed by 13 ranchers in federal court accusing the bureau of not doing its job in managing horse numbers.

Some ranchers and their supporters have expressed the view that they will round up horses themselves unless the bureau acts promptly.


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One thought on “Tensions build in debate over Utah’s wild horses

  • May 7, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Please start charging the Welfare Ranchers a reasonable rate. $1.35 per month, per head of cattle, is ridiculous and it needs to be raised. At $5.00 per month per head of cattle, they would still be on Welfare, accepting taxpayer assistance, but maybe it would make them more grateful and humble for what they have been receiving.


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