After the wild horse roundup, a new life

Aurora and her newborn colt True Grit were spotted this week at Sand Wash Basin [Photo by Robin Wadhams]

The shock and horror at the brutal roundup of the beloved Sand Wash Basin Wild Horses last week has reverberated around the world. Sadly many people were introduced to our iconic wild horses under the most barbaric circumstances. As a result people have a lot of questions. In this post I introduce some of the issues surrounding wild horse management.

Out of profound heartache a new life

  • A total of 529 wild horses (stallions, mares, foals) were gathered.
  • 479 horses were trucked to BLM holding in Cañon City. These horses will available for adoption by next spring. More info to come.
    [These numbers are provided by SWAT and differ from other news reports. I’m going with SWAT’s numbers.]
  • Two horses were euthanized at the trap site due to injuries that SWAT volunteers believe occurred during the roundup.
  • 49 horses (25 mares treated with fertility control and 24 studs) were released back on the range on September 11.
  • SWAT (Sand Wash Advocate Team) was asked to select 3 fillies that were treated with fertility control and released in the Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area in southwest Colorado. [see photo below]
  • Approximately 250+ horses remain in the Sand Wash Basin HMA.
  • Plus one. This week a newborn colt was spotted and photographed by SWAT. [see photo above]
Young stallion Flash with Sand Wash fillies Aiyanna, Rowan and Dundee at their new home in the Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area in southwest Colorado [Photo credit: TJ Holmes/Spring Creek Basin]

These next two stories touch on the issues surrounding wild horse management and are the result of collaboration between the KDNK radio and Aspen Daily News.

KDNK: Sandwash Basin Mustang Roundup Captures Over 600 Horses 

The Bureau of Land Management removed more than 600 wild horses in early September from inside the Sandwash Basin Herd Management Area, west of Craig, Colorado. KDNK‘s Amy Hadden Marsh was there and has this report.

Aspen Daily News: BLM gathers horses in Sand Wash Basin despite objections

Standing on a hillside in the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area, the breeze carries a thunderous boom from miles away, but there are no storm clouds in sight. It’s the sound of about a hundred horses hoofing the ground as they’re loaded into trailers, 40 at a time.

The horses in the trailers are as wild as the sagebrush that grows in northwestern Colorado. They will be taken to a facility in Cañon City, where the Bureau of Land Management will hold them until they can be deemed fit for sale, adoption or long-term holding.

Meg Fredrick, a photographer for the California-based wild horse and burro advocacy organization Return to Freedom, has spent the past seven years visiting the Sand Wash Basin and documenting the herds that roam the area. To see the horses that she’s come to love throughout their lives loaded into trailers and shipped far away is like having a broken leg, she said. Over time, she and the other advocates have gotten used to the pain.

“We are numbed,” she said. “The energy from this land is gone. We hate it when we hear the cattle trucks in the morning because we know they’re taking away our babies” …

Here’s another good, in-depth article from the Steamboat Pilot

‘Devoid of life’: Soon there will be just 163 wild horses left in famous Sand Wash Basin herd after BLM roundup
As of Wednesday night, 608 horses have been gathered

… On Wednesday, the Bureau of Land Management rounded up that band of horses as part of what they call an “emergency” process to help the horses and the land. By Wednesday’s end, 608 of the nearly 900 horses in the basin had been rounded up, the most in any gather in Colorado’s history …

The events of the past week have spawned a movement to end the BLM’s brutal helicopter roundups of wild horses. More roundups are happening right now in Wyoming and Oregon. There HAS to be another way to manage our wild horses. Wild horses are wildlife. We don’t manage any other wildlife in this way. We don’t roundup other wildlife herds such as buffalo, elk, moose, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, etc. Therefore it’s reasonable to ask why our precious wild horses are being abused in this way.

The BLM’s wild horse fertility control program has been effective but there are problems. Return to Freedom is a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of wild horses and burros. They outline some of the issues surrounding the program in this public statement.

Statement from Return to Freedom about the fertility control program

Return to Freedom has supported the decision to implement a fertility control program in Sand Wash Basin since 2012. But we are discouraged that of the 300 mares darted with the safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccine PZP last year, most were removed from the range after such an investment of time and resources from local volunteers.

Ongoing tracking and data is critical to analyze the effectiveness of the program and determine which mares are responsive to the non-hormonal vaccine. Typically, PZP programs have an 80-98% efficacy so there should be evidence of that in the data as well as a noticeable decrease in reproduction. PZP allows for the herd to continue to grow but at a much slower pace. The intent is to reduce and eliminate capture and removals which are costly, often deadly, and destroy genetic diversity and natural selection.

If mares are not darted or treated with fertility control to slow reproduction on the range and released, roundups will be followed by the same population increases and then, as usual, BLM returning to remove and place more wild horses alongside tens of thousands already in off-range holding.

BLM must also begin viewing all Herd Management Areas in a more holistic way. The agency should take into consideration the full impact all of the multiple uses required by law, including private livestock grazing, energy extraction and public recreation, and allocate an equitable share of resources to the wild horses and burros for which Herd Management Areas were established.

Recent rains will help bring new growth in the Sand Wash Basin and the wild horses look good. We hope that the fertility control program at Sand Wash can be developed so that horses and the citizens who love them do not have to again endure such aggressive capture and removal that destroyed so many wild horse families.

TAKE ACTION: Send a message to Congress in support of safe, proven and humane fertility control that can be a key tool in halting roundups.

The American Wild Horse Campaign is calling for a moratorium on helicopter roundups as well as Congressional oversight of the BLM’s management of our wild horses and burros. Please remember that wild horses and burros are wildlife. Just as it is with all wildlife, they do not belong to the BLM.

AWHC Cheers Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ Help in Sand Wash Basin, Plan for State Involvement

Denver, CO (September 10, 2021) — On the heels of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) halted Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area (HMA) wild horse roundup in northwest Colorado, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is calling for a moratorium on helicopter roundups of wild horses amidst mounting evidence of widespread mismanagement, abuse of power, misuse of emergency declarations, and failure to account for livestock degradation of public lands within wild horse and burro Herd Management Areas (HMAs). AWHC is also calling on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee to conduct an oversight hearing on the BLM’s management of the nation’s federally-protected wild horses and burros and the public lands.

The call comes as the BLM’s wild horse roundup in the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area was halted, with the help of Colorado Governor Jared Polis, after leaving a trail of documented cruelty that includes orphaned foals left alone to die on the range, horses with broken legs and other tragic injuries, horses chased for miles at high speeds and in high temperatures to pure exhaustion, then slammed into overcrowded trap pens.

“The atrocities leveled against wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin roundup were the latest in aggressive and abusive roundups unfolding in the West, most being conducted under the guise of emergency declarations that allow the BLM to short-circuit requirements for environmental analysis, public comment, and appeal,” said Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of AWHC.

For more information

History of the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horses: Want to know more? Dive into the rich history behind NW Colorado’s ancient grazing lands

American Wild Horse Campaign

Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Advocate Team – SWAT

The Cloud Foundation

Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary (GEMS)

Spring Creek Basin Mustangs



Categories: Colorado

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