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Wild horse muster ends, divisions go even deeper

August 6, 2010

The controversial Tuscarora wild horse muster in Nevada is over, with the operation dividing mustang advocates and the federal agency charged with the animals' care like never before.

Wild horses in Nevada. © BLM
The Bureau of Land Mangement said on Wednesday it had completed the operation, capturing 1224 wild horses across the three herd herd management areas comprising the Tuscarora complex - Owyhee, Little Humbolt and Rock Creek.

The increasingly bitter fight over the management of America's wild horses has seen a growing number of legal challenges to the bureau's actions, with horse advocates angered by the increasing number of horses being pulled from the western Rangelands.

The Tuscarora roundup was embroiled in controversy within hours of beginning, with deaths among the first horses pulled in from the Owyhee area from complications arising from dehydration.

That muster, at the time under legal challenge by Cloud Foundation official and journalist Laura Leigh, went ahead under emergency measures after the bureau told a judge around 500 horses were at threat from water deprivation.

The bureau said it hauled in 46,000 gallons of water for wild horses within the Owyhee area from July 12-18.

However, wild horse advocates said the horses faced a maze of fences to reach traditional water sources and questioned the need to proceed with the emergency muster.

The Cloud Foundation condemned the bureau over the limited access provided to those wanting to view operations. It alleges the bureau has been conducting some parts of roundup operations on private land as a strategy for limiting access.

"The Tuscarora roundup accurately characterises a government agency that treads heavily on the First Amendment rights of American citizens while they destroy a beloved icon of the West," said its executive director, Ginger Kathrens.

"Originally, the bureau locked down the area to dissuade press and observers from covering the roundup for the first two weeks," Kathrens said.

Leigh, who is herd watch director for the foundation, said: "We can only imagine the dirty work they did not want us to see.

"Even as an accredited member of the press and member of the public, I was not allowed to observe any horses during the deadly Owyhee roundup," she added.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that our government can operate in such a cloak-and-dagger manner with a resource so important to the American people.

"This kind of secretive action cannot be allowed to happen again. It is a clear violation of the checks and balances afforded in our Constitution."

The bureau said the muster was necessary because of the degradation of rangeland resources.

It also blamed over-population for the need for "emergency rescue operations" to save water-starved horses.

It said a total of 34 animals either died or were humanely euthanised during gather operations. Thirteen of them died due to insufficient water resources on the range, it said, succumbing to water starvation/dehydration-related complications.

Twelve had pre-existing injuries or conditions such as lameness, blindness, pneumonia, or birth defect/physical injury-related deformities and were euthanised.

Four horses died or were euthanised as a result of gather-related injuries, and five animals died from assorted causes after transportation to the short-term holding facility.

However, the Cloud Foundation said the bureau's spin doctors had been at work on the Tuscarora death toll.

Advocates have been exploring conditions on the range and material gathered to date included photographs of a horse lying dead on large rocks.

Advocates suspect it may have run to its death on the rocks during one of the gather operations.

"The desert doesn't lie," said Katie Fite, biodiversity director for Western Watersheds Project, in reference to investigations on the range.



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