Wild horse advocates have condemned plans to remove all wild horses from 1.2 million acres of so-called checkerboard lands in Wyoming.
They believe the planned roundup of 946 wild horses is the first step in the planned total elimination of all wild horses in Great Divide Basin and Salt Wells Creek.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced plans to remove all wild horses from checkerboard lands – alternating one mile square sections of private and public land – within the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek herd management areas (HMAs).
The three HMAs total about 2,427,220 acres, with 1,242,176 acres falling within the checkerboard region. Wild horses will remain in the non-checkerboard sections of the HMAs.
The operation is set to begin on August 20.
The bureau says the removal comes at the request of private land owners and to comply with a 2013 legal consent decree in Rock Springs Grazing Association vs Salazar, No. 11-CV00263-NDF, and Section 4 of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.
Wild Horse Freedom Federation board member Carol Walker, a well-known equine photographer, said: “Adobe Town, Salt Wells and Great Divide Basin are home to the largest free-roaming wild horse herds left in Wyoming.
Walker, who has photographed the southwestern Wyoming herds for 10 years, said genetic testing had linked the Adobe Town herd to horses re-introduced to the Americas by the Spanish in the 1500s.
“Great Divide Basin wild horses are descended from Calvary remounts,” she continued. “To lose the wild horses in this vast landscape known by local residents as the ‘Big Empty’ would be to lose touch with our western history, heritage, and the untamed spirit of the West.”
The federation and another horse advocacy group, the Cloud Foundation, condemned the consent decree under which the horses would be removed.
Under the decree, the bureau agreed to zero out the wild horses in Divide Basin and Salt Wells, on the grounds that these unfenced wild lands allowed mustangs to freely roam into private land in the checkerboard areas.
However, they contend that even in the Adobe Town herd management area, which contains only a small portion of land within the checkerboard, the bureau intends to slash the herd, leaving only 500 horses on over 400,000 acres of federal lands.
The groups said that while the bureau and graziers contend 1912 wild horses overpopulate the 2.4 million acres within the three herd management areas, the horse advocates’ research reveals that 356,222 cattle and 45,206 sheep graze the same lands under federally subsidized grazing leases.
While cattle and sheep were not on the range year round like wild horses, the monthly average of 68,740 cattle and 10,741 sheep compared to fewer than 2000 wild horses, they said.
“Livestock, not wild horses, overpopulate and degrade the rangelands,” they said in a statement.
Cloud Foundation volunteer chief executive Ginger Kathrens said: “Wild horse and burro herds and the federal lands on which they roam are under fire from those seeking to control land currently owned by the American public.”
The foundation has joined a legal push by the Friends of Animals to list North American Wild Horses under the Endangered Species Act.
US Representative Raul Grijalva (AZ) said: “With the myriad of threats posed to the remaining wild horse herds in America, it is past time that we look to science to guide their management on our public lands.
“I support The Cloud Foundation’s call for wild horses to be federally protected under the ESA.”
The petition cites the primary threats to wild horses on federal public land as habitat loss, inadequate regulation, and excessive round-ups and removals.
All horses removed by the bureau from the checkerboard lands will be examined by a veterinarian, dewormed, Coggins-tested and given booster shots.
They will be available for adoption through the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program, and held in long-term pastures.