DENVER — The Bureau of Land Management Colorado is planning to roundup wild horses in the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area beginning Thursday.
The roundup in the area, which is southwest of Meeker and east of State Highway 139, was previously scheduled for September, but the BLM White River Field Office decided to move up the roundup due to the conditions of the wild horses in the area.
“We saw some horses really suffering in March and April,” said Elijah Waters, the northwest district manager of BLM Colorado. “We were getting quite a bit of feedback from the public to do something, and we felt like the best option was to gather as soon as we could for the horses in poor condition and for the horses that will remain and need forage before going into next winter.”
There are currently more than 1,385 wild horses in the Piceance-East Herd Management Area, and the appropriate management level for the area is 135 to 235 horses, according to BLM officials.
The roundup will happen in two stages. Beginning June 16, BLM will conduct bait trap operations, which is where horses are drawn in by food and water, in an effort to gather horses that are malnourished. In the second stage, horseback riders and helicopters will conduct drive-trap operations beginning around July 15.
“It is imperative that we bring the population of wild horses to within the appropriate management level to preserve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple-use relationship in that area,” said Bill Mills, the field manager at the White River Field Office.
The use of helicopters for wild horse roundups has sparked controversy in the past. Advocates have called the roundup method inhumane, though BLM has maintained that its gather operations are “safe, efficient and successful” and in accordance with the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy.
IN-DEPTH: Wild horse debate rages on as feds promise probe into deaths of more than 140 horses and counting
The roundups were also called into question after 145 horses died at the Cañon City Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Facility due to a strain of equine influenza and streptococcus.
A team with staff from the Colorado State Veterinarian’s Office, the Colorado Department of Corrections and the BLM is reviewing the events surrounding the outbreak. A voluntary quarantine remains in place at the Cañon City facility until July 1.
A report obtained by Denver7 in May indicated BLM violated at least a dozen policies, including not vaccinating the horses that died from the illness even though it could have been done when the horses were initially microchipped. BLM blamed staffing issues for inconsistencies in following its own policies.
Following the report, Polis called for future roundups to be delayed “to consider more humane options.” On June 13, Rep. Joe Neguse also called for a delay in future roundups.
“The American Wild Horse Campaign is alarmed by the BLM’s sudden decision to speed up capture operations so soon after Governor Polis and Congressman Neguse called for a pause in this large-scale roundup,” said Suzanne Roy, the group’s executive director. “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 horses rounded up from the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area will be taken to the BLM wild horse holding facility in Utah to be adopted, sold or provided long-term care in off-range pastures.
After the announcement to push up the date of the roundup, Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis, provided the following statement:
"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. 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."
BLM is holding a public meeting about wild horse management in Colorado from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, which will include a Q&A period. They’ll discuss the upcoming roundup and next steps for the Cañon City facility. Anyone interested can pre-register for the meeting, and a link will be sent to participate.