Wyoming Checkerboard Roundup: What You Need To Know


  • Largest wild horse roundup in U.S. history
  • 50% of Wyoming’s wild horse population to be decimated 
  • Cost to taxpayers up to $175 million
  • Inhumane helicopter capture methods to be utilized
  • 50+ deaths forecast
  • Captured horses sent to overcrowded holding pens and in danger of slaughter. 
  • Controversial fertility control trials (IUD’s)
  • Strong environmental objections 
  • 10+ x more forage allocated to livestock than to wild horses
  • Interim step towards zero-horse plan 
  • Harm to local ecotourism resource. The Wyoming tourism industry promotes wild horse viewing, not cattle viewing. 

How many wild horses does the BLM plan to remove? 

The BLM plans to roundup 4,397 wild horses living in 5 Herd Management Areas (HMAs): Little Colorado, White Mountain, Salt Wells Creek, Adobe Town, and Great Divide Basin.

Of these, 3,555 will be permanently removed while 842 will be released back to the range after mares are treated with fertility control. The BLM plans to use either the PZP or gona con vaccine on 356 of the released mares, while 64 will have IUDs implanted, the impacts of which are not well documented in wild horses. 

The agency seeks to reduce the population to the low end of the population limit (AML) it has set for the area, which is 1,550–2,165 wild horses.

Because of the BLM’s unscientific census estimates, there is a real possibility that this massive roundup will reduce the populations below the low AML number, which would violate the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act. These population estimates are based on a 2019 aerial count and the addition of two years of 20% population growth, a projection that is not based on any specific data or science and would not account for differences in population growth across the different regions of this expansive 5,300-square-mile area. 

When does the roundup start and how long will it last? 

The operation is expected to start on October 8, 2021 and could continue into February 2022.

Who is conducting it? 

Two BLM Districts (Rock Springs and Rawlins) will oversee the roundup. The well-known contractor Cattoor Livestock Roundups will be conducting the operation.

How many horses will be left after the roundup? 

BLM estimates that just 1,550 wild horses will be left after the roundup on 3.4 million acres of land  --  a density of 1 horse per 2,217 acres. This population limit was established based on the allocation of 91% of available forage in these areas to livestock. 

  • Adobe Town: 610 horses on 477,000 acres (1 horse per 782 acres)
  • Salt Wells Creek: 251 horses on 1.2 million acres (1 horse per 4,781 acres)
  • Great Divide Basin: 451 horses on 776,000 acres (1 horse per 1,721 acres)
  • White Mountain: 205 horses on 234, 000 acres (1 horse per 1,141 acres)
  • Little Colorado: 69 horses on 611,000 acres (1 horse per 8,855 acres)

After the roundup, the wild horses will be more scarce and difficult to find than they are today. This significantly impacts the experience of recreational users who travel to these public lands for wild horse viewing and photographing as well as the local economy for which the wild horses are an ecotourism resource.

Who owns the land from which the horses are being removed? 

74% (2.5 million acres) is public land managed by the BLM, while 26% (900,000 acres) is state or privately owned. Most of the private land in this area is owned or leased by the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA). RSGA members also hold permits to graze livestock on the public lands in this area. 

What will happen to the horses after they are rounded up? 

The 3,555 wild horses who will be permanently removed will be shipped to two facilities: the BLM’s corrals in Rock Springs and a new, privately-operated 3,500-horse storage location in Wheatland, WY on 200 acres of private land owned by ZimMetal and Welding, Inc.

These formerly free-roaming animals, who once roamed 10 or 20 miles a day, will be confined in feedlot pens that provide 700 square feet of space per horse. They will be separated by sex and will never experience freedom or family again. 

Some of the horses will stay in these pens. Others will be put up for adoption or sale through the BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program, which pays people $1,000 per horse to adopt a maximum of 4 unhandled/untamed wild horses or burros. The program has been documented as a pipeline to slaughter for “truckloads” of these federally protected animals. Many of these iconic Wyoming wild horses could end up brutally butchered at horse slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico for human consumption in foreign countries.  

Why is this happening? 

The BLM claims that the roundup is necessary to “restore a Thriving Natural Ecological Balance (TNEB),” but environmentalists like Erik Molvar or Western Watersheds Project say that the area is already at TNEB at the current wild horse population level. 

They note that the number of cattle and sheep in the HMA vastly exceeds the number of wild horses. In fact, the BLM authorizes ten times more forage to privately-owned cattle and sheep in this public lands area than to federally-protected wild horses and burros. Recently, the 3.8-million member Sierra Club called out the BLM’s bias against wild horses in resource allocation and called for the removal of livestock from designated wild horse habitat areas instead of removing horses.  Other environmental groups, including Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and WildEarth Guardians have also called for the removal of livestock from wild horse habitat areas. 

The pending Checkerboard roundup is a precursor to the pending BLM plan to eradicate horses entirely from most of the HMAs in this area. If successful, this action would result in the loss of 52% of the state’s wild horse habitat. This plan is the outgrowth of legal and political pressure from the Rock Springs Grazing Association, which has sought elimination of Wyoming Checkerboard herds for over a decade. 

How much will the roundup cost taxpayers?

At approximately $4.4 million just to round up the horses and as much as $171 million to store the horses in holding pens or pastures for life, this one roundup could cost taxpayers over $175 million!

Do the roundups harm horses? 

Yes. Helicopter roundups are traumatic and dangerous for wild horses. Helicopters chase them for miles, often at top speeds, over rugged terrain and stampede them into traps. Elderly horses, ailing horses, young foals, and heavily pregnant mares are forced to run along with the fit. 

Horses frequently die from broken necks and legs, while others die after the roundup due to the trauma of being chased and pushed to extreme exhaustion (i.e., capture shock, or myopathy). Foals (baby horses) are separated from their mothers, trampled, or die from exhaustion, trauma, or injury. Violations of the BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program standards are routinely violated and no enforcement mechanisms exist to hold BLM personnel or contractors accountable and ensure that violations do not recur. 

At the BLM’s acknowledged roundup-related mortality rate of 1.2%, 53 wild horses can be expected to die in this roundup. 

What should happen? 

The American Wild Horse Campaign believes the proposed action to permanently remove 3,554 wild horses from these HMAs is extreme and out of proportion with the reality on the ground. It is not justified by science or environmental needs. 

Instead, the BLM should increase the population limits for this area, reducing livestock grazing on the public lands portions of these HMAs where necessary. Allowing for larger wild horse populations will maintain the genetic health of these historic herds while protecting this ecotourism resource for the local economy. Reducing or eliminating livestock grazing from wild horse habitat areas on public lands is consistent with the positions of numerous environmental organizations including Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Center for Biological Diversity, and Western Watersheds Project. 

The BLM should use birth control instead of helicopters to manage these wild populations. If the helicopters must fly, then the action must be focused on fertility control, with horses being treated and released back to the range. If removals do occur, they must be dramatically reduced. 

Given the uncertainties of the census counts, under no circumstances should the BLM reduce this population below the high end of the AML range. Revising the number to high AML would leave 613 more wild horses on the range saving taxpayers as much as $30 million over the lifetime of the horses. 

What Can I Do to Help Wyoming’s Wild Horses?

  1. Get informed: 

Advocacy & Information

BLM Documents

  1. Get involved: 

Sign up for AWHC’s action team.

      3. Urge the Interior Department and the BLM to halt the roundup and shift resources toward protecting these horses in the wild and managing them with fertility control where necessary to stabilize population growth rates.