DENVER (CBS4)- The Bureau of Land Management is moving up its wild horse roundup in the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area, saying the area is overpopulated with horses. The roundup was originally scheduled for September.
With the announcement, the agency issued this video of the mustangs in the area, saying the horses are not in good condition, and neither are the resources of the range.
"The appropriate management level for the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area is 135 to 235 wild horses, and the population is currently over 1,385 wild horses," the BLM said in a statement released Monday.
As CBS4 reported in May, livestock ranchers are allowed to graze their cattle in the Piceance-East Douglas area. There are currently four different ranching companies that hold livestock grazing permits in that area. According to public records, those four ranchers are allowed to graze 12,247 cattle a year in the Piceance-East Douglas area.
One of those ranchers, Deirdre Macnab, owner of the 4M Ranch in Meeker, tells CBS4 she's glad to see the BLM move up the roundup.
"I couldn't be more excited and frankly relieved. We ranch for future generations because we take very seriously the need to improve the soil, protect the water supply, and understand that things are getting hotter and drier," Macnab said.
She says the horses had degraded the land so much, that she wasn't able to graze her cows in that area this year, and plans not to put them on it at least until the winter, to allow the grasses to grow back.
"They pretty much had eaten everything, and it was down to the dust, so that we were not able to use those heavily, heavily used areas by the mustangs," Macnab said. "We're very appreciative that the BLM has forged ahead with this plan, and we support it, absolutely, 100% we think it's in the best interest of the range, and frankly, for the horses as well."
But not all are in agreement with the plan.
Wild horse advocates tell CBS4 they are surprised by the BLM's plans to move up the gather.
"The American Wild Horse Campaign is alarmed by the BLM's sudden decision to speed up capture operations," said Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of the American Wild Horse Campaign. "We believe an independent assessment of the condition of the Piceance horses, and their habitat, including water availability within the HMA, would be a more measured and appropriate next step than accelerating an unpopular and potentially dangerous helicopter roundup."
The BLM has been under fire after more than 140 horses died from a virus outbreak at a holding facility in Cañon City.
Wild horse advocates are questioning the department's handling of the 457 horses gathered from the West Douglas area west of Meeker on the Western Slope in August of 2021.
A report on the cause of mass deaths among horses at the Cañon City facility points at an equine influenza virus as the likely cause. The strain H3N8, is not known for killing so many animals at once. The BLM believes there is a secondary reason the horses have become so ill. Other horses among the over 2500 in Cañon City have gotten ill, but have not died, only those gathered in the West Douglas area have been killed.
Following that incident, Gov. Jared Polis called on the BLM to pause the East Douglas roundup.
Polis' office released this statement Thursday expressing opposition to the BLM's move to accelerate the gather schedule:
"The Governor expresses strong disappointment with the decision to move forward with the costly and wasteful roundup of our wild horses. In addition to providing the Bureau of Land Management with numerous cost-effective and humane alternative methods of management, he has given well-justified reasons to reconsider or alter the roundup. Inasmuch as the BLM appears to be moving forward with an accelerated plan, it is apparent not only that they will not seriously consider better alternatives, allowing only a few weeks for bait and trap methods, but that the agency truly doesn't care to first listen to stakeholders before moving forward, with this announcement coming before their announced listening session. The Governor invites Coloradans to inform the BLM of specific concerns related to the impending roundup. Ideally, public input will succeed in persuading the BLM to reconsider its plans and to instead make important reforms to ensure humane and far more cost-effective management of our iconic wild horses. The Governor raised concerns in his letter regarding more horses going to the Canon City facility and BLM has informed our office that they do not intend to send additional horses from roundups to any Colorado facilities."
Advocates like Roy with the AWHC believe the outbreak in Cañon City are a prime example of why more horses shouldn't be added to holding facilities.
"I think we have a capacity crisis in these holding facilities, where over 18,000 wild horses are warehoused right now, and we are having a conservation crisis on the range where the BLM is doing these massive round ups and reducing the wild horse populations to such low numbers that they're basically leaving remnant herds that are not genetically sustainable," Roy said. "So we're at a moment where they are poised to destroy our wild free roaming wild horse herds, while causing this incredible animal welfare and fiscal crisis in these offerings holding facilities, and so it's something everyone should care about. They're all of our public lands. These are our horses and these are our tax dollars that are funding this broken and inhumane system."
Because Cañon City is under quarantine, the mustangs rounded up from Piceance-East Douglas will be sent to a holding facility in Utah, the BLM says.
BLM officials tell CBS4 the roundup will begin Thursday, June 16, with a bait trapping method, and drive-trap gather operations, which uses both horseback riders and helicopters, will begin on or about July 15. The BLM has not yet chosen a contractor for the drive-trap gather operations, and the bait trapping will be done internally.
Back in Meeker, Macnab says she too is a wild horse advocate. She's preparing for the Meeker Mustang Makeover on Aug. 27, where locals in the East Douglas region adopt captured wild horses and train them.
"You'll get to see Colorado wild horses who have been trained by kids and adults so that they can have healthy productive lives," Macnab said.
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