Wild horses in Colorado: ASPCA, other groups file suit to block roundups of two herds

For years, the Bureau of Land Management has been aiming to remove substantial numbers of northwest Colorado's remaining wild horses -- despite a federal judge's ruling last year that the agency has failed to prove that the obscure herds are overpopulated. Now, a coalition of activist groups have filed two lawsuits in federal court seeking to rein in the controversial roundups before they begin.

The latest action, filed October 7 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Habitat for Horses, the Cloud Foundation and other wild horse advocates against Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and BLM officials, seeks to protect a herd in the North Piceance area. A similar suit filed last week addresses the hundred or so mustangs in the West Douglas herd, which was scheduled for a "zero out" roundup of the entire bunch this month.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop further BLM "gathers," claiming that the agency is violating the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and several other federal mandates that protect the animals' right to their historic range. Recent roundups in other states, using helicopters to exhaust the herds and drive them into pens, have caused numerous horse deaths and generated widespread criticism.

The BLM acknowledges that it now has close to 40,000 horses and burros in holding pens or private pastures, at taxpayer expense -- more than are still left in the wild. Salazar has contended that the roundups are necessary to reduce overpopulation and proposes to relocate many of the horses to new homes (dubbed "Salazoos" by his detractors) in the Midwest as part of a $100 million overhaul of the BLM's wild horse management plan.

But the ASPCA and others are lobbying for BLM to stop the roundups until the National Academy of Sciences provides an independent assessment of the number of horses still on the range and appropriate herd management levels.

"BLM and other public agencies have eliminated over a third of the wild horse herds designated for protection by Congress in 1971," notes Cloud Foundation executive director Ginger Kathrens. "Colorado has only a few hundred wild horses remaining, and the destruction of yet another herd is unthinkable -- cruel, costly and completely unnecessary."

Follow links to our previous wild horse coverage.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast