Mustang deaths trigger more calls to suspend BLM roundups

Last week, we noted that a fragile truce between the Bureau of Land Management and activists protesting the agency's roundups of wild horses was on the verge of blowing up, with lawsuits pending over a proposed "gather" in the midsummer heat of northern Nevada.

Now that the roundup is underway -- and seven mustangs have already died -- the protests are mounting.

BLM officials halted the operation the first day after less than three hours in order to further "assess" the situation. While the deaths would seem to have been caused by the stress and exhaustion of being chased by helicopters across miles of rangeland, they're being blamed on dehydration, injuries and possibly water intoxication -- the result of thirsty horses being offered too much water too soon after being run into pens.

Activists are decrying the deaths as the first wave of another "Salazar Massacre," blasting Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's controversial plan to reduce free-ranging herds (which the BLM claims are overpopulated and unsustainable) and acquire new pasture lands in the Midwest and East for captured horses -- dubbed "Salazoos" by his critics. Many of the groups are still steamed over the Calico roundup last winter that resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries.

The latest organization to call for a moratorium on the roundups is the Humane Society of the United States. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle has called for new standards for the operations, focused on animal welfare rather than "a bureaucratic timeline and agency convenience," and for greater access to the roundups by outside observers -- preferably with the training and authority to suspend a gather if horses are being put at risk of serious injury or death.

The current roundup started on private land and without any public observation. For more on the Salazar plan and its critics, see our previous coverage of wild horse issues.