The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is in the process of removing over 700 wild horses from the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area and adjacent property in northwest Colorado and another 600 in the Jackson Mountains HMA in Nevada. The emergency round ups are two of many occurring on western lands stricken by drought this summer, as a lack of water resources and adequate forage threaten the survival of the ecologically feral animals and further exacerbates their ecological impacts.
Overall, the agency hopes to remove as many as 6,000 horses and burros from federal rangelands in the American West this year to reduce burgeoning populations and protect native species. Removals began on the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area on Sept. 1 and are continuing for about 25 days. There, the BLM plans permanently remove 733 wild horses from the HMA and offer them for adoption. The agency also plans to return approximately 50 horses to the range, including 25 mares that will first be treated with fertility control vaccines.
The BLM estimated that before the removals began, there were 896 wild horses on the San Wash Basin HMA, with another 150 on surrounding properties. The appropriate management level for the HMA is 362 horses. The Sand Wash Basin HMA is about 158,000 acres—about 155,000 acres of federal land, 2,000 acres of private land, and 840 acres of state land.
Both Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) have expressed concerns about the removals in their state. Polis sent a letter to the Department of the Interior requesting a 6-month moratorium on removals to allow for additional stakeholder engagement. Rep. Neguse sent a similar letter to Interior, also requesting a moratorium.
The BLM is also planning to remove about 600 wild horses from the Jackson Mountains Herd Management Area in north-central Nevada in a gather expected to begin this week and run for 15 days. That 283,775-acre HMA has an appropriate management level of 130-217 horses. A population estimate conducted earlier this year estimated the population at 848 wild horses, not including the foals born this year.
The Wildlife Society has regularly advocated for federal agencies to reduce free-roaming horse and burro populations on public lands. As an invasive species, horses and burros compete with native wildlife and damage their habitats. The BLM estimates more than 85,000 wild horses and burros currently range across 27 million acres of BLM-managed public lands in the western United States—far above the agency’s established appropriate management level of 26,785 animals, the maximum numbers that those public lands can sustain without damage to vegetation, soils and other resources.
Read TWS’s Issue Statement on Feral Horses and Burros in North America and watch the Horse Rich and Dirt Poor documentary film.
Laura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.
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