What You Need to Know: The Wyoming Checkerboard

(February 4, 2020) The BLM, on behalf of the livestock industry, has waged a decade-long effort to eradicate federally protected wild horses in Wyoming from a land area roughly the size of the State of Connecticut ( 2.8 million acres/ 4,400 square mile). The area contains four Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and a 2-million acre swath of public and private lands known as the Wyoming Checkerboard, the origins of which date back to the railroad land grants of the mid-1800s.

Most of the private land in this area is owned by the powerful Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA), whose members hold permits to graze their private livestock on the public lands for vastly below-market, taxpayer-subsidized grazing fees.

Wyoming Stallion: Copyright: Kimerlee Curyl

Photo by Kimerlee Curyl

In 2011, when the RSGA sued the BLM seeking the removal of all the wild horses from this area, AWHC, our coalition partner The Cloud Foundation and wildlife photographer Carol Walker have been fighting for the future of these herds. Over the years, we have established important legal precedents including establishing that:

  • The BLM cannot turn the public lands over to private interests by using requests to remove wild horses from private lands as an excuse to eradicate them from adjacent public lands.
  • The BLM is NOT required to remove wild horses from public lands solely because their populations exceed the agency’s imposed population limits (AMLs).

Now the BLM is at it again with its ultimate solution: turning the public land in this area over to private grazing interests by eradicating the vast majority of federally-protected wild horses who call this rugged area of Wyoming home. Included in this Wyoming Wild Horse Wipeout: the elimination of all wild horses in the area of the Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Viewing Loop, just off route 80, which was created by the City of Rock Springs to attract tourists to the area.

The result: the loss of 60 percent of the state’s wild horse habitat and removal of nearly 40 percent of its wild horse population. On January 31, 2020, the BLM released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing sweeping proposed changes to the Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that set land-use policy for the public lands in this area. Under the Proposed Action the BLM would:

  • Immediately eradicate wild horses from nearly 2.4 million acres of designated habitat by “zeroing out” the Salt Wells Creek, Great Divide Basin, and White Mountain Herd Management Areas (HMAs).
  • Reduce the size of the Adobe Town HMA and slash the population limit for wild horses by almost 40%, down to 225-450 horses “or less.”
  • Utilize surgical sterilization on wild horses remaining in the redrawn, smaller borders of the Adobe Town HMA.

Great Divide Mustangs. Copyright: Kimerlee Curyl

Photo by Kimerlee Curyl

The public lands in this area belong to all Americans, not just the livestock operators who receive steep tax subsidies to graze their cattle and sheep there. All Americans should have a say in the future of these lands, which have been designated as habitat for federally-protected wild horses in the state.

Americans have time and time again demonstrated their strong desire to protect these iconic animals on Western public lands. AWHC is committed to continuing the fight to preserve the wild horses of the Wyoming Checkerboard and stopping the devastating Wyoming Wild Horse Wipeout Plan.

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