Despite a federal judge's decision halting a roundup last year, the Bureau of Land Management is once again seeking to "zero out" a small herd of wild horses in Western Colorado, triggering fresh protests. The West Douglas Herd, located south of Rangely, is comprised of approximately 100 horses distinct from a larger herd to the east. BLM officials insist the area is "not suitable" for horses and has been seeking to round up the mustangs for relocation or adoption for decades.
But late last year US District Judge Rosemary Collyer halted the latest proposed roundup, ruling that the BLM had exceeded its authority and failed to prove that the herd was overpopulated or consisted of "excess" animals.
Undeterred, BLM has prepared another environmental assessment that proposes a roundup of the entire herd, possibly using helicopters as well as bait-trapping, this October. That prompted a detailed critique of the plan from the Colorado Springs-based Cloud Foundation that raises some interesting arguments concerning the herd's viability and the cost of removing it.
Cloud Foundation director Ginger Kathrens points out that BLM's own data shows the herd's population has remained static for years, with even a slight decrease since 2005. Yet the environmental assessment assumes a 20 percent annual increase in population for the next five years to justify the roundup.
Although the BLM hopes to offer many of the horses for adoption, the adoption rate hasn't kept up with the roundups. There are now nearly as many wild horses in government-maintained pastures and holding facilities as there are roaming the range.
"Please consider that the removal of a mustang costs already strapped American taxpayers over $2,000 in addition to a possible $2,098 to $4,700/year holding cost for the rest of the horse's life if they are not adopted or sold," Kathrens writes. "Why not apply the initial savings of over $172,0000 to range improvements, livestock and fence removals, noxious weed treatment, water improvements, and any number of projects that would improve the West Douglas area for wild horses and all other wildlife species?"
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But BLM's assessment insists that the herd's removal is necessary "to establish, maintain and preserve a thriving ecological balance" in accordance with the 1971 law directing the agency to manage the herds.
Don't expect the controversy to get resolved neatly anytime soon. By the time the scheduled roundup approaches this fall, the first stampede will probably be one of free-roaming attorneys, headed back to court.
Click to see more of our recent wild horse coverage.