The Barren Valley Complex (Complex) includes the Coyote Lake/Alvord-Tule Springs, Sheepshead/Heath Creek and Sand Springs Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and spans nearly 1 million acres in Oregon. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently estimates that as of June 2021, approximately 2,500 wild horses call the Complex home. However, the BLM’s unscientifically low Appropriate Management Level (AML) for the HMA – the number of horses the agency claims that the range can sustainably support in conjunction with other animals and resource uses – is 459-892 horses.
While the BLM notes that there is currently not enough forage and water in the Complex to sustain the wild horse population, at the same time the BLM continues to authorize thousands of cows to graze in the Complex.
It is time for the BLM to manage wild horse habitat for the wild horses.
This roundup will cost the taxpayers at least $488,000 thousand to just round up these 1,900 beloved horses from the Complex. Of that only 100 are planned for a return to the HMA, so the removal will also bring along with it the lifetime cost of approximately $90,000,000 million to house the remaining 1,800 horses for the remainder of their lives in government holding corrals. The contractor for this roundup is Sun J Livestock.
On top of that, the taxpayer foots the bill for federally subsidized livestock grazing on public lands as well. The federal grazing fee remains at its historic low of $1.35 per animal per month. That’s a steep discount, thanks to the taxpayer subsidies that prop up this federal entitlement program. (Estimates indicate that the overall cost to taxpayers for the federal grazing program could be as much as $500 million annually.
Helicopters are scheduled to fly starting on September 8, 2021. We will update this report as the operation progresses.
Sept 15, 2021: 106 wild horses lost their freedom forever in today's capture operation.
Today the observers started at temporary holding to watch the mares and foals load into the BLM trailer that would ship them to the Holding Corrals in Bruneau, Idaho. The stallions were especially attentive in this group, coming to the sides of the chute to say goodbye to their mares one last time. It was a truly heartbreaking way to start the day.
The roundup operation was at the same trap and observation site as yesterday. The helicopter was out flying with no runs until about 11:45 when the helicopter appeared in the distance as streams of horses came down out of the hills.
- Run 1: This was a huge run, with over 30 horses. Our observer could see at least 7 foals in this group. They all came in together and packed the trap.
- Run 2: There were about 19 horses or more in this group. Our observer could see at least 5 foals as the horses were sorted for loading to temporary holding. It became apparent that the contractors were becoming pretty aggressive with their flags as they tried to sort and load the horses.
- Run 3: There were about 22 horses in this run. One horse in particular caught our observer's attention. The horse had pressed itself against a gate in the trap and appeared too terrified to move. A rope was used to move the horse forward and help load it onto the trailer. (BLM later informed observers that the horse was blind in at least one eye, as her eye was missing, and that she was still being evaluated to see if she was lactating and blind in the remaining eye.) While no horses were reported as euthanized today, our observer remains concerned that this mare will be put down because of this condition.
- Run 4: There were at least 11 horses in this run. The helicopter started bringing the horses towards the trap before Run 3 was loaded and out of the trap. (The runs today ran much closer together than yesterday.)
The operation ended around 3:30 today. After the last run, the observers went back to temporary holding to watch the horses being sorted.
- In the second run of the day, our observer documented a tiny black foal being kicked hard by a stallion that was reacting to being hit by a contractor using a flag (BLM reported all the foals were ok at the end of the day). While flag contact with wild horses is allowed under the BLM's Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program (CAWP) policies, contractors are not allowed to strike or beat a wild horse in an abusive manner. From our observer's point of view there were several times where she documented aggressive flag contact with a wild horse. (BLM personnel simply stated that the contractors were trying not to make contact with the horses but that the horses were not moving through the trap).
- During the final run of the day, a mare and foal split off from the main group and avoided capture. After the bulk of the horses were in the trap, four riders mounted and the helicopter went after the pair. In this second attempt at capture, the mare and foal split and went in different directions. The helicopter stayed on the foal and drove it towards the riders. The foal was then chased, roped, and brought into the trap by the riders. The helicopter then went after the mare. It pushed the mare around the area but was called off and the mare was let go. BLM informed the observers that it was determined the foal was of weaning age and therefore the mother did not need to be brought in as well.
- While sorting the horses, a mare that hung her leg on the side of the chute.
September 14, 2021: 87 wild horses were stampeded into traps today
Today the observers started at temporary holding to watch the mares and foals load into BLM trailers that would ship them to Holding Corrals in Bruneau, Idaho. BLM is shipping all the horses there and once the roundup is over then they will choose 50 mares who will receive GonaCon fertility control and choose stallions to be released.
While loading, one mare got stuck in the chute. Staff tried to wave a flag to move her and had to physically move her head off the bar before she jumped, releasing herself. She continued to resist but eventually succumbed to the pressure and loaded into the big stock trailer.
Observers arrived at the roundup viewing spot, which was the same as yesterday in time for potentially the second run of the day. Half way through the day observers were allowed to move about 50 yards closer to the trap.
As soon as our observer arrived on scene, she noticed that the contractor was not letting the horses settle into the trap before loading them onto the trailer. Instead the horses were sorted as soon as they were captured.
- Run 2: There were about 15 or more horses in this group and at least two foals. A very tiny foal came in at the back.
- Run 3: About 16 or more horses, with at least 3 foals in this group, including another very young foal'
- Run 4: About 11 or more horses in this run, and at least one foal. This groups’ attitude was very defiant fighting for their freedom.
- Run 5: There were about 17 or more horses in this run. Two horses avoided initial capture, one was six months old and one was a yearling. Both horses got to the top of the wings, but right before entering the trap they turned around, faced the helicopter, and ran out. They darted off in different directions. The helicopter took off after the older horse that headed into the hills. Two contractors on horseback started to come to the pilot's aid when the younger horse made a beeline for the observers. At that point all three riders and the helicopter converged on the young horse. The foal was roped, fell to the ground, reared at its restraint and took off at a run despite the rope. He was sadly already under control of the rider and was brought back to the trap. After this foal was secured, the pilot looked for the older horse but he was already too far away for the ropers to get to. So he is free another day, but without his family.
BLM allowed the observers to see the empty trap at the end of the day. Our observer described it as surprisingly narrow.
- When sorting Run 3 for transport to temporary holding, our observer noticed that the contractor's staff appeared to be using an electric prod. This was clear based on the shape and color of the tool and the horses' reactions to its use. Throughout the day our observer noted heavy reliance on the electric prods, raising animal welfare concerns. Electric prods are unfortunately allowed under the BLM's Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program policies, however they must be used sparingly, as a last resort, and with permission from the BLM's lead.
- While sorting this group for transport to temporary holding, one horse absolutely refused to load onto the trailer - holding on to his freedom for as long as he could. About 20 minutes in, after trying all sorts of methods to push the horse forward (including giving it time out of the chute) the contractor brought in ropes. With two ropes on the horse, then threaded through the trailer bars and tied to a saddle horse on either side - the contractor's staff then used that leverage and the movement of their saddle horses to forcefully pull the horse onto the trailer. Even this heartbreaking scene took several attempts to accomplish. Finally, the horse was loaded. He audibly protested by pawing in the trailer as they pulled away from the trap.
- The pace horses were pushed through the trap and into the trailer was significantly more rushed than previous days and horses seemed to crash into each other (see images). This also raised animal welfare concerns.
September 13, 2021: 88 wild horses lost their freedom today.
Today was the first day in the Sheepshead/Heath Creek HMA. BLM stated it plans to remove about 800 wild horses from this area, as horses in the areas to the South tend to travel here for water. So, we expect them to be here for the majority of the operation.
There were three members of the public observing today. The observation was about 1/4 mi away, on a hillside, and had a clear view of the wings and the trap.
- Run 1 had about 17 horses, the horses avoided the trap several times (what came to be a theme with this HMA)
- Run 2 had about 13 but after two failed attempts to get this group into the trap the helicopter let them go. [AWHC's observer believes these same horses were captured later in the day]
- [There was a break to move the wings of the trap given the difficulty]
- Run 3 had about 14 horses. The helicopter brought in 10 first, and let four split off. A black mare in the group of ten tried to jump the fence panels of the trap. Both groups had at least one foal.
- [Consistently we were seeing the contractor separating foals from the adult horses as they come in to the trap for transport to temporary holding where they were reunited with their mothers.]
- Run 4 had 10 horses.
- Run 5 had 6 horses, the smallest our observer saw today.
- Run 6 had 15 horses. This herd was very defiant. The herd banded together and would simply stop moving as the helicopter circled. Eventually they were all captured.
- [Twice today one of the contractor's trailers blocked the trap from view.]
- Run 7 had 10 horses.
**Interesting note about the contractor, Sun J. The helicopter uses a megaphone to sound off "cop car" sounds and sirens throughout the operation. The pilot would sound the sirens intermittently. According to the BLM staff the sirens allowed him to stay back farther from the horses. To our observer, the sirens on the helicopter were simply symbolic of the attitude BLM has towards wild horses generally. BLM constantly, literally, sounds the alarm by blaming the wild horses unfairly for range degradation across the West.
Our observer left a few runs before the end of the day to see temporary holding. After viewing temporary, she saw (from the highway) the helicopter pushing a herd of horses who were simply walking. It appeared that the horses were coming from a far distance from the trap.
September 12, 2021: 8 wild horses were captured today and there was 1 death – A 3 -year-old mare with pre-existing condition/physical defect of a clubfoot was euthanized.
September 11, 2021: 86 wild horses were captured today and there were no deaths reported.
September 10, 2021: 24 wild horses were rounded up and removed today and there were no deaths reported. The operation was suspended early today because of high winds and rain.
September 9, 2021:
The BLM stampeded 100 horses into traps today. The horses scored body conditions between 2-4 and the weather reached highs of 101 degrees.
Today, three wild horses lost their lives. The BLM euthanized a four year old mare, a three year old stallion and a two year old stallion for a "pre-existing condition/physical defect of blindness/eye abnormality."
September 8, 2021:
Today 98 wild horses lost their freedom and two lost their lives. The horses came in with body condition scores between 2-4. The weather hit highs of 100 degrees.
The BLM euthanized a 15 year old stallion for a "pre-existing condition/physical defect of blindness/hematoma in eye." They also euthanized a seven year old mare for a "pre-existing condition/physical defect of fractured fetlock."