A helicopter drives wild horses toward the trap site during a roundup on the Salt Wells Creek Herd Management Area in 2017. RTF file photo.
The Bureau of Land Management’s largest-ever roundup began on Oct. 7. The BLM plans to capture 4,300 wild horses on five Herd Management Areas in southwest Wyoming, permanently removing 3,500 wild horses while re-releasing 800, half of them mares treated with fertility control.
In taking such aggressive action, BLM is seemingly setting the stage for a near wipeout of wild horses in the Checkerboard region of Wyoming, a 2-million-acre area of alternating blocks of private and public land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad.
Last January, the BLM released a draft Resource Management Plan that would allow the agency to meet the terms of a consent decree it entered into in 2013 with the Rock Springs Grazing Association. The ranching group sued for the removal of all of the wild horses from the 2-million-acre Checkerboard region, an unfenced area of alternating, one-mile-square blocks of public and private land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad.
Though not yet finalized, BLM’s preferred option for amending its Resource Management Plan would: remove all wild horses from the Salt Wells and Great Divide Basin Herd Management Areas, slash the Adobe Town HMA’s agency-set population target from 800 horses to a maximum of 450, and manage the White Mountain HMA as a non-reproducing herd, effectively zeroing it out, too.
BLM’s preferred plan demonstrates explicit bias. It considers only reallocating forage from wild horses to other wildlife or livestock without making an equivalent amount of forage available to wild horses elsewhere.
The agency is set to make this decision without providing any analysis of the loss of forage and acreage that comes with removing these wild horses and no ecological analysis for lowering the number of wild horses it allows on the Adobe Town HMA.
The BLM is also considering population management tools that are dangerous, inhumane, unproven, costly (surgical sterilization of mares), ineffective (sex-ratio skewing) or that do not have a fully understood effect on wild herds (gelding stallions).
BLM’s lone reason for zeroing out wild horses on two Herd Management Areas is the difficulty of creating a barrier between public and private lands. The BLM apparently did not consider land swaps or other possible solutions, like scaling up a program of safe, proven and humane fertility control, an effort that would help lead to stabilization and a decrease, where necessary, of wild horse populations, with fewer horses ending up in already overcrowded off-range holding facilities at great taxpayer expense.