Roundup Report: Red Desert Complex, WY 2020

The Red Desert of southern Wyoming is one of the last high-desert ecosystems in the United States. This vast 9,320 square mile area is home to an abundance of wildlife and federally protected wild horses. 

There are five herds that have called this land home for centuries: Antelope Hills, Crooks Mountain, Green Mountain, Lost Creek, and Stewart Creek. Together, these wild mustangs and the Herd Management Areas (HMAs) they live in, make up the Red Desert Complex, 703,500 acres of public land and 49,500 acres of private land.

In September, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it would be conducting a massive helicopter roundup and removal of approximately 2,400 wild horses from within the Complex in October. According to the American Wild Horse Campaign, this number represents the largest removal of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program since its inception. 

The BLM plans to reduce the wild horse population to the “Appropriate” Management Level (AML) of just 480-724 within the complex, leaving three of the HMA’s with just 65 or fewer horses remaining. At the low end, that equates to 1 horse per every 1,500+ areas. 

Meanwhile, the BLM permits 20,995 privately-owned sheep and 9,763 cows on the various allotments throughout the year within the federally-designated wild horse habitats.

Read the pre-roundup blog by photographer Carol Walker, who has spent years with these beloved horses.


October 18, 2020: 121 wild horses lost their freedom today. 

Observation offered a distant view, about a mile from the trap. No injuries or deaths today.

The removal included Blue Zeus and the Big Band along with other local favorites (below).

The horses came in with good weight and showed a lot of color.

One band escaped by refusing to enter the trap.

While no horses captured today will be released back on the HA, the cattle continue to graze.

October 17, 2020: There were no round up operations today because of the weather. 

We did watch as 20 stallions and 46 mares were released back on the Stewart Creek HMA today. Mares had been branded and treated with PZP-22.

Read the most recent blog from Carol Walker.

October 16, 2020: 128 wild horses were captured and removed from pubic lands today and there was one death, however at the time of this report, the BLM has not relayed what the "acute" (result of the roundup) death entailed. 

Read the most recent blog from Carol Walker.

October 15, 2020: 78 wild horses were rounded up and removed today, and there were no injuries or deaths reported. 

October 14, 2020: The roundup was canceled today due to a high wind warning in the area.

October 13, 2020: 75 wild horses were captured today and there were no injuries or deaths reported.

Photo by Lynn Hanson

Photo by Lynn Hanson

We watched this family running through the chute but then stop before they got any further. In a panic, they turn around looking for a different way out. Because there were two helicopters working different groups of horses in the same vicinity, we did not see exactly how the little family got free from the jute fence. Next thing you know, we were photographing them running away from the trap site with one of the helicopters in pursuit of them.

As they kept running, we noticed they were heading in our direction, getting closer to the public observation point, and that’s when the helicopter turned around and headed back. As the family of five ran past us, we were rooting them on. They were a beautiful family. And thanks to their tenacity, are still wild and free.

Photo by Lynn Hanson

Read an in-depth report from Carol Walker

October 12, 2020: It was cold and very windy this morning when we arrived at our observation point. The trap site was about half a mile away, perhaps even further. 

They brought in 84 horses today. No injuries, no deaths. They shipped 79 horses (from Saturday) to Cañon City, Colorado.

Tomorrow we’ll be at the same observation lookout, knee-deep in sagebrush. They are hoping to bring in 150 horses (providing it’s not too windy again) and the same amount on Wednesday. If so, they will wrap up Stewart Creek HMA and release the “keeper” horses back to the range on Thursday. Everything is always tentative.

After that, they’ll move on to Lost Creek HMA.

This is a stallion who escaped from the jute chute. His family was captured, and it looked like he slowly trudged into the desert, his head hanging low from extreme exhaustion or very sad that he lost his family. He looked hopeless as he stopped to rest before moving on. It was really heartbreaking to watch, whatever the story.

The helicopters could not rein in this small herd. We were all rooting for them.

A heartbreaking scene in a beautiful area.

A stallion, who our observer Lynn Hanson called ‘Pale Face’ in the wild with his herd, and then again captured. 

October 11, 2020: The roundup was canceled today due to high winds and rain.

October 10, 2020: The roundup began in the Stewart Creek HMA. Approximately 112 wild horses were rounded up and removed and no injuries or deaths were reported. However at the time of this report the BLM had not yet released the final total.

Photos by Lynn Hanson for AWHC.

Horses are coming off the 750,000 acre Complex in excellent body condition.

At one point during the day, the helicopter was scouting for approximately 2 hours and all it came back with was a small herd of 4 horses (photo above). This suggests both that the horses were running for an extremely long time, and that there are likely less horses in the Stewart Crek HMA than the BLM has stated.

A large group of horses was being brought in by the helicopter and a black foal diverted away from the herd. He was seen looking very dejected and exhausted as he walked in the opposition direction of his family. He was later brought in by a wrangler on horseback. Video shows that he toppled to the ground while being roped.  

Privately-owned cows could be seen grazing within the Stewart Creek HMA. According to BLM's Environmental Assessment, there are approximately 1,265 cows grazing in this area currently.

The faces of freedom lost. Temporary holding.