The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing to remove all wild horses from Checkerboard lands within and outside Great Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek, and Adobe Town Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in Wyoming. This roundup is the latest consequence of BLM's decision to turn over control of the public lands in this 2-million acre area to the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA), whose members own or lease the private land parcels in the Checkerboard and graze their livestock on the public lands in the area as well. Despite the fact that well over half the land in the Checkerboard is public, BLM Rock Springs Field Manager Kimberlee Foster publicly states, "For all intents and purposes, we consider all of the checkerboard private."
The BLM is an agency run by and for livestock operators, who graze their cattle and sheep on our public lands and pay grazing fees that are a fraction of market rate thanks to our tax subsidies. The Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) is one of the nation’s largest grazing associations whose powerful members dominate land use policy in this area of southeastern Wyoming.
The RSGA controls the private land blocks in the Wyoming Checkerboard, a more than 2-million acre land area that consists of alternating public/private land parcels, a relic of the building of the railroads in the West. They view wild horses as competition for cheap, taxpayer-subsidized forage on public lands, and they want these iconic animals eliminated from the western landscape.
Back in 2010, the RSGA was lobbying the BLM to undertake massive wild horse roundups. Demonstrating that federal corruption goes to the highest levels, in 2010, then Deputy Interior Secretary Sylvia Baca advised the RSGA to file a lawsuit against the BLM as a mechanism for getting Congress to appropriate more funds for wild horse roundups. The fix was in. The RSGA filed a lawsuit and the Interior Department/BLM promptly settled it by agreeing to wipe out wild horses from the Wyoming Checkerboard, even though well over half of the land in the Checkerboard is public and despite the fact that the elimination of wild horses from this area violates the agency’s existing land use plans. The agency continues to implement this devastating plan in the face of massive public opposition – as evidenced by the tens of thousands of public comments the BLM has received over the past 6 years opposing this wild horse wipeout and public lands giveaway.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, The Cloud Foundation and photographers Carol Walker and Kimerlee Curyl continue to challenge this BLM’s actions, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear our critically important case on September 19 in Denver. At stake is whether the BLM will be allowed to continue to use requests from landowners to remove wild horses from private lands as an excuse to eliminate them from the public lands as well. If allowed to stand, the agency's actions put the fate of wild horses living on public lands throughout the West in the hands of private landowners (ranchers) who want them all removed from our public lands.
Meanwhile, wild horses continue to pay the price for the agency's reckless actions. The latest plan proposes to use helicopters to stampede, capture and permanently remove over 500 wild horses from the three Herd Management Areas, just two years after the agency's massive Checkerboard roundup, which removed 1,261 wild horses from the area. Once removed from the range, these horses are warehoused in holding facilities where the threat of being sold for slaughter hangs ever-present over their heads. These roundups force wild horses – including elderly or ailing mustangs, heavily pregnant mares and tiny foals -- to run for their lives for miles over rugged high desert terrain. Scores of horses die in the roundup itself or in the days and months after in the BLM’s feedlot holding pens.
The BLM is currently accepting public comments on an Environmental Assessment for its latest assault on the beautiful wild horses of the Wyoming Checkerboard.