The Humane Society of the United States has renewed its criticism of the federal management of wild horses as hundreds of mustangs are being mustered from the checkerboard lands of Wyoming.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is targeting about 800 wild horses in the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek herd management areas (HMAs).
The three HMAs total about 2,427,220 acres, with 1,242,176 acres falling within the checkerboard region, so named because of its alternating public and private land parcels.
Under the muster plan, wild horses will be cleared from the checkerboard section under a deal reached between the state of Wyoming and the Rock Springs Grazing Association. A reduced number of wild horses will remain in the HMAs in areas outside the checkerboard.
The muster was the subject of a legal challenge by the Cloud Foundation and other wild horse advocates, but a court cleared the way for the gather to proceed.
The BLM has so far confirmed the arrival of 338 horses from the checkerboard portion of the HMAs at its Rock Springs Wild Horse Holding Facility.
The facility can hold up to 800 wild horses and it expected to receive up to 400 from the checkerboard removal.
The humane society’s president and chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, writing in his blog, A Humane Nation, described the Wyoming muster as strategically suspect, saying it could have been avoided had the BLM put in place a more humane and economically viable management plan for wild horses throughout the West.
“The HSUS has long argued that the BLM, which conducts these roundups, should be working with the humane community to manage wild horses using fertility control methods.
“The broader implementation of this strategy would come with some costs, but those would be offset and then some by reducing the need for removals and the housing and feeding of tens of thousands of horses in short-term and long-term holding facilities.
“Implementing aggressive fertility programs is a solution supported by most stakeholders and the National Academy of Sciences. It would be much more humane for the horses if the government opted for this strategy.
“It is a well-known fact that the BLM’s wild horse roundup program is a case study in mismanagement. There are now more than 40,000 free-roaming wild horses in the United States, most of them in Wyoming and Nevada, and the government has been rounding up and removing them, ostensibly to control these wild populations and minimize their ecological impact.
“Over the years, they have built up a captive horse population that now numbers in the tens of thousands, at short-term and long-term holding facilities. The cost of the roundups and housing and feeding the animals is now cannibalizing about two-thirds of the budget for the entire program.’
Despite this, the BLM continued to view the roundup of wild horse herds as its primary management strategy, Pacelle said, “even as the continuation of this strategy threatens to break the bank”.
The bureau, he said, had yet to make meaningful reforms, saying the 2400 horses and burros to be targeted by federal authorities this year was still too many.
Without reforms in favor of fertility control, the continued loss of horses’ lives in roundup and big costs were bound to recur, he said.