The Bureau of Land Management has approved a plan to remove up to 100 wild horses from private and other land southeast of Rangely this fall, a decision made more controversial due to activists’ concerns that animals could end up being euthanized.
The agency said Friday it plans to use a helicopter operation to round up horses that have strayed outside the designated Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area. That 300-square-mile area is east of Colorado Highway 139, south of Colorado Highway 64, and west of Colorado Highway 13.
The decision, which is subject to a 30-day appeal period, also will allow future gathers to remove other horses outside the management area. The BLM estimates that some 210 horses live outside the management area but within the land covered under its decision.
In a preliminary environmental assessment, the BLM proposed removing up to 72 horses this fall. But it says in its final EA that its White River Field Office since has been approved for removal of up to 100 horses. The office is pursuing the removal because the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Program determined that for the 2017 fiscal year it has space available in off-range corrals or pastures for excess horses that might be removed in Colorado.
The local removal will occur on private land in the Cathedral Creek area. The BLM plans to transport removed horses to its Cañon City holding facility, and then adopt them out, sell them or place them into long-term holding.
The group American Wild Horse Campaign voiced concern in a news release Friday about the potential fate of nearly 10,000 wild horses it says the BLM is trying to remove from rangeland in Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Oregon in coming months. It says the agency wants to remove nearly 7,000 horses in Nevada alone in one of the largest such roundups ever.
“These horses are in grave danger of being killed or sold for slaughter if Congress grants the BLM’s request to lift the current prohibition on destroying healthy wild horses and burros or selling them for slaughter,” the group said in its release.
A provision allowing destruction of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros, but continuing to prohibit their sale for processing into commercial products, made it out of the House Appropriations Committee in July. But for now, a longstanding congressional prohibition against the destruction of these animals or their sale for slaughter remains in place.
Nearly 50,000 such animals are now in holding facilities, costing taxpayers $50 million a year for their care.
“The BLM is committed to maintaining a healthy wild horse population on healthy rangelands in the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area,” BLM White River Field Manager Kent Walter said in a news release. “Wild horses that stray from the established Herd Management Area need to be removed to reduce conflicts with other resources and private land under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.”
The BLM has received multiple requests from a private landowner to remove wild horses in the area that have moved onto the landowner’s ranch, damaging riparian areas, feeding in irrigated pasture, and causing domestic horses to disappear or be injured, resulting in at least one having to be euthanized.
The agency also has been involved in fencing work in the area to try to keep wild horses within their designated area.