Casper Star-Tribune    October 1, 2003

BLM to begin wild horse roundup

By JEFF GEARINO Southwest Wyoming bureau

GREEN RIVER -- The Bureau of Land Management is beginning fall wild horse roundups as part of the agency's continuing effort to cut Wyoming's wild horse population in half in order to fulfill an agreement with the state.

The BLM plans to gather up to 1,400 horses beginning this week from areas in south-central and southwest Wyoming, federal officials said Monday.

The roundup is seeking to bring wild horse populations in the state to appropriate management level of about 3,263 animals, officials said.

The approximately 1,400 excess wild horses due to be gathered by BLM wranglers over the next few weeks marks the second huge roundup by the agency this year.

Earlier this year, the agency gathered 1,716 wild horses in separate roundup operations within the Adobe Town and Salt Wells wild horse herds. The two herd management areas were particularly overcrowded and each contained at least 500 more wild horses than the habitat can support.

When all is said and done, the BLM will have gathered about 3,100 horses this calendar year, BLM wild horse managers confirmed Monday.

The BLM and the state announced in August an agreement to cut the state's wild horse population in half. After Wyoming threatened to sue the BLM in June, the two sides negotiated a consent decree under which the BLM pledged to keep horse populations down to appropriate management levels.

BLM wild horse specialist Chuck Reed said in a phone interview the agency plans to remove the animals this fall from six wild horse herd management areas in southern and southwest Wyoming.

The herd management areas include Crooks Mountain, Green Mountain, Stewart Creek, White Mountain, Little Colorado and the Great Divide HMA. He said excess wild horses outside of the HMA's north of Interstate 80 may also be removed.

The roundups aim to achieve the established appropriate management levels (AMLS) for each of the HMAs and should help the agency's efforts to reduce wild horse populations in Wyoming to its 3,263 AML statewide, he said.

In recent years, the state's wild horse population has reached as high as 7,000 animals, more than double the appropriate management levels.

"In order to maintain an ecological balance and ensure the health of horse herds and the environment, we must continue our gather operations until we achieve the established AMLs in each area," Wyoming BLM State Director Bob Bennett said in a statement issued Friday.

Wyoming is home to one of the largest wild horse populations in the country. The agency oversees some 5,400 wild horses in 16 herd management areas across the state, including many in remote areas of Sweetwater and Carbon County in southwest Wyoming.

Reed said roundups could begin as early as Thursday or Friday and the gathering operations will be conducted as quickly as possible.

"One of the things that we've found, learned and worked on is that as far as stress on the animals is concerned, faster is a whole lot better than slower," he said. "Getting it done and getting it over is a whole lot easier on them ... it works us to death but it hasn't killed us yet."

He said two different roundup crews will be employed for the gathering efforts. Crews will begin work in the Crooks and Green Mountain HMAs and hope to finish in the Stewart Creek area by mid-October.

Wild horses inhabit areas near Cody, Lander, Rock Springs and Green River, Rawlins and Worland. The Wild Horse and Burro Act, passed by Congress in 1971, gives the responsibility for managing Wyoming and other Western state's wild horse populations to the Department of the Interior and the BLM.

The state and BLM avoided a possible costly and long-term litigation with the August consent decree after the state said it intended to sue the agency. The state claimed the BLM had mismanaged wild horses to the point that grasslands were overgrazed, hurting elk and deer herds.

Under the consent decree, the BLM pledged to reduce the number of horses to the appropriate management level in eight of the management areas by Dec. 15, 2003 and in all 16 areas by Dec. 15, 2004.

The pact, which is effective for 10 years, also requires the BLM to count the state's wild horse population every three years starting in 2005. The count reports would be submitted to Wyoming's governor and attorney general.

The agency has gathered approximately 3,100 wild horses since last October. The excess horses are either taken to sanctuaries run by the BLM or adopted by private parties through the agency's Wild Horse Adoption program, Reed said.