Federal managers have a month to relocate nearly all of the 1126 horses held on land at Utah’s Gunnison Prison after the state terminated its wild horse inmate program.
The decision follows diagreement over the costs associated with running the program, under which inmates train wild horses removed from the western rangelands.
The Bureau of Land Management’s Utah State Office said it had valued its relationship with the Utah Department of Corrections and regretted that it had decided to end the program at Gunnison.
“This program has aided in the rehabilitation of inmates and has, through the gentling of horses, helped place animals into good, private care,” the bureau said in a statement.
It said the Department of Corrections’ decision would complicate national efforts to make sure there was enough off-range holding capacity for wild horses and burros removed from public rangelands.
The bureau was likely to place nearly all of the 1126 Gunnison horses in facilities outside of Utah.
The bureau’s Utah division said it had worked closely with Utah Correctional Industries (UCI) for more than a year to resolve financial issues set forth in the audit conducted by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General, which issued its findings in September 2013.
The bureau estimates it has overpaid UCI by about $US2 million.
“The agency is in the process of securing an outside, independent audit to verify this figure,” it said.
The prison wants all the horses relocated from Gunnison by October 6.
The Corrections Department told federal authorities on Friday of its decision, with a spokesman saying it could not sustain the program without losing money.
The program started in 2007. It has involved 175 inmates during that time, 82 of whom had been released from prison.
The contract was renegotiated in 2012 around a different payment model, but there has since been a dispute over what costs should be reimbursed.