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Federal roundup set to remove 122 wild horses in northwest Colorado

The Bureau of Land Management said the area is unsuited for wild horses because most of the food and water sources are on private land.
A livestock helicopter pilot rounds up wild horses.
Posted at 2:41 PM, Sep 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-01 14:41:57-04

The Bureau of Land Management on Friday will start the removal of an entire wild horse population in northwest Colorado.

According to a press release by the bureau, there are roughly 122 wild horses in this region. However, they note that the ideal number of wild horses in this area is zero because most of the food and water sources are on private lands nearby.

"The West Douglas Herd Area is not managed for wild horses due to limited food and water, which causes the horses to stray into private lands," said White River Field Office Manager Bill Mills in a press release. "The removal of excess wild horses will protect the rangelands and reduce impacts to sensitive animal species and adjoining private properties."

The West Douglas area, which is located along the Utah border, is rangeland that isn't among Colorado's four designated herd management areas and was considered unsuitable as a horse habitat in 1975. The four designated areas managed by the bureau are Spring Creek Basin, Piceance-East Douglas, Sand Wash Basin, and Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range.

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This would be Colorado’s first scheduled wild horse roundup this year, and the roundup will involve a low-flying helicopter that will push the horses to the bureau’s holding facility in Cañon City, Colorado. From there, a veterinarian will examine them and prepare them for an adoption program.

However, lawmakers and activists have described helicopter roundups as terrifying for horses, often leading to broken legs and deaths.

Colorado’s own governor, Jared Polis, has previously called the action inhumane, and in May, Polis signed the Colorado Wild Horse Project into law, which aims to find a solution to better handle the rehoming of these horses. The bill allocates $1.5 million to create the Colorado Wild Horse Management Project, a state group uniting ranchers, activists, community members, and government leaders to protect the horses.

"We can ensure that our wild horse herds have a humane and sustainable future in western Colorado. We also want to highlight that this will set a national example. It's a first-of-its-kind partnership for how the state, ranchers, advocates, local communities, conservationists, and federal land managers can come together to achieve the best outcome to successfully manage these majestic animals that are synonymous with the American West," said Polis when he signed the bill.

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Furthermore, U.S. Reps Dina Titus, D-Nev.; David Schweikert, R-Ariz.; and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. reintroduced the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act, aiming to ban "inhumane helicopter roundups" of wild horses and stating that this method is costing taxpayers a lot of money.

According to federal records, since fiscal year 2017, the BLM has expended over $25 million in taxpayer funds on these operations.

The reintroduced bill would mandate the U.S. Government Accountability Office to submit a report to Congress within a year of the bill's passage. The report will detail the effects of aircraft chases on wild horses and burros and propose more humane alternatives to helicopter roundups.

However, the BLM continues to stand behind its actions, saying that "helicopter gathers are one of the most efficient and humane methods to capture wild horses, especially when terrain and access is difficult."

In 2021 and 2022, the BLM removed over 30,500 horses from Western rangelands, including 1,500 in Colorado. Among these horses, 37 died in the Wyoming Checkerboard region, while in 2022, 145 lost their lives seven months after being moved to Cañon City due to an equine flu outbreak as they had not received vaccinations.

This year, the BLM intends to remove approximately 6,000 horses nationwide.