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.
From October 2021 to January 2022, the Bureau of Land Management completed its largest-ever wild horse roundup on five Herd Management Areas in southwest Wyoming. A total of 4,161 wild horses were captured, with 3,465 horses permanently removed from their home ranges and 37 killed. A total of 659 wild horses were returned to the range, including 328 mares treated with fertility control.
In taking such aggressive action, BLM set 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.
In January 2022, 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 a final decision has not been issued, 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 and slash the Adobe Town HMA’s agency-set population target from 800 horses to a maximum of 450. The BLM considered making the White Mountain HMA herd non-reproducing, but its preferred alternative in the final Environmental Impact Statement does note that "population growth suppression tools" including spaying and gelding, which RTF strongly opposes, may be used to limit population growth.
BLM’s preferred plan amendment 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 made its 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.