By Keith Riddler, Associated Press
BOISE, IDAHO ...A 150-square-mile area in southwestern Idaho will become home for several hundred non-reproducing wild horses from around the West that have failed to be adopted, federal officials say.
"It would sort of act as a sanctuary area," said Heidi Whitlach of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The agency on Monday announced the release of its approved Resource Management Plan for the Jarbidge Field Office.
The herd of wild horses in the Saylor Creek Herd Management Area will be sterilized either chemically or physically and kept to between 50 and 200 horses, said Whitlach, the plan's project manager. Officials said that process is likely years away, though, as details are worked out.
The herd will be replenished with wild horses from Idaho and sometimes other states, she said. Wild horses are sometimes rounded up and offered for adoption when their numbers exceed the amount of food available to support them. But not all the horses get adopted.
Currently, the Bureau of Land Management has about 47,000 wild horses and burros that are being held and fed in corrals and pastures.
The 72-page Range Management Plan, or RMP, guides management of everything from wild horses to cattle grazing to recreation to sage-grouse habitat restoration on the 2,200-square-mile Jarbidge Field Office that contains desert canyons and remote rangelands.
"One thing that's very different about this RMP is that we will be moving this herd from a producing herd to a nonproducing herd," Whitlach said.
Anne Novak, executive director of the wild-horse advocate group Protect Mustangs, said the federal agency is making a mistake.
"These are not feral cats," she said. "These are wild horses that have a very dynamic social structure. They have a whole herd dynamic that's going to be completely ruined by sterilizing them."
Heather Tiel-Nelson of the Bureau of Land Management said one of the options in the management plan was removing wild horses from the area altogether because they have no natural water supply. But she said the agency ultimately decided to have a non-reproducing herd.
The herd twice since 2006 has been rounded up and held in the agency's Boise Wild Horse Corrals after wildfires destroyed rangeland forage, she said.
"These horses do tend to be fairly familiar with people," she said. "They tend to roam in areas that are fairly accessible for people to go out and see them."