Feds begin rounding up wild horses
BLM wants to remove herd of 138 animals near Meeker
Amid continuing legal wrangling, Bureau of Land Management contractors on Monday began efforts to round up and adopt out an estimated 138 wild horses near Meeker.
The agency’s action follows the filing of a lawsuit to challenge it last week by wild-horse advocates, and its recent decision to postpone until next summer plans to remove an entire horse herd west of Colorado Highway 139 and south of Rangely. The postponement resulted from the renewal of a legal challenge of that herd’s removal.
Contractors used a helicopter Monday afternoon to begin what the BLM calls a “gather” of wild horses west of Meeker. The goal is to remove horses that have wandered outside the BLM’s designated 190,000-acre Piceance-East Douglas herd management area.
BLM spokesman David Boyd said two small groups of horses were brought in Monday, and to his knowledge none of them was injured in the operation. The gather could continue until Oct. 22.
The BLM says its efforts to remove horses are aimed at protecting rangeland for other uses such as livestock grazing and wildlife habitat, and to protect the horses from overpopulation and possible starvation.
“We want to keep horses healthy, we want to keep the range healthy and we want to maintain a balance,” said Boyd.
The agency will evaluate later whether to remove horses within the Piceance-East Douglas area. Boyd said the population there is estimated at 318, but the BLM considers the appropriate management level to be 135–235.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife supports the current gather and the one proposed for the West Douglas area. However, agency spokesman Randy Hampton said the DOW did raise some concerns about the current operation overlapping with the start of the state deer and elk rifle season.
Ginger Kathrens, volunteer executive director of the Cloud Foundation, one of the plaintiffs in the suits, said horses are being removed to “make way for more welfare cattle,” which are allowed to graze on public lands for fees so low the program requires taxpayer subsidies.
“We’re calling for a moratorium on roundups so there can be a time-out so this can all get sorted out and BLM can report to Congress as to why they’re doing this,” she said.
The White River and Douglas Creek conservation districts’ executive director, Callie Hendrickson, said livestock grazing is heavily managed for the sake of rangeland and that the same must be done in the case of wild horses.
“We are very supportive of gathering the horses simply to take care of the rangeland health,” she said.
The BLM wants to remove all horses from the West Douglas area, and from what it calls the North Piceance area in the case of its current roundup. It says neither area is suitable horse habitat. But horse advocates say 1971 wild horse and burro legislation requires protection of horses in such areas where they were historically found.