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Wild Horse Roundups Resume; Horses and Foals Die in Summer Heat and Arid Conditions

July 27th, 2010 by Nicole Meyer

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Wild horses gallop in the Rocky Hills HMA, southeast of Battle Mountain, Nevada.  PHOTO CREDIT : USAToday

Wild horses gallop in the Rocky Hills HMA, southeast of Battle Mountain, Nevada. PHOTO CREDIT : USAToday

Despite tremendous public opposition and legal actions the Department of Interior is moving forward with the ill-conceived plan to remove more than 6,000 wild horses and burros from our public lands by October 2010. The Obama Administration’s policy has proven to be both deadly and devastating for wild horses. The Calico Complex roundup, which IDA fought in federal court, has to date taken the lives of 186 horses including 30 foals who have died and 40 spontaneous abortions as reported by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
On July 10, 2010 the BLM began this horrific roundup of wild horses in the summer desert heat in northeast Nevada – the Tuscarora Complex roundup. (See USA Today article.) The BLM reports, given the lack of public access to observe there is no way to verify any BLM-provided information, that 22 wild horses have been killed at the trap site and three have died at the holding facilities. After a lawsuit was filed by Nevada horse advocate Laura Leigh, the BLM began to claim the first part of the Tuscarora roundup (in the Owyhee herd management area) was a “rescue” operation – claiming there was not enough water on the range and that horses were dehydrating. Just last week, IDA had a representative on the ground in Owyhee and observed water, cows and plenty of fencing in and around the Owyhee area.

If dry conditions were so severe one would expect wildlife and cows to be suffering from the same dehydration – yet this was not the case. Rather only wild horses were in need of “rescue.” As one local rancher told IDA – antelope and other wildlife can get under and over fencing, but wild horses cannot. If a need to “rescue” horses occurred – it was clearly a BLM-created problem.

Indeed, in mid-May, the BLM conducted an on-the-ground observation at Owyhee; the promotional video resulting from it, actually titled “Extreme Terrain Requires Extreme Diligence,” stated among other things that There is little water available to sustain more than 800 horses.” (Also see transcript.) Meanwhile, the BLM warned in its own Environmental Assessment that Given the dry conditions and the expanding wild horse numbers, along with the limited perennial water sources in the Owyhee HMA, the BLM has a very strong concern that wild horses could suffer from dehydration and possible death in the Owyhee HMA this summer” to justify the disastrous July 10 roundup.

Clearly, the BLM should have taken actions (i.e. fence removal, water delivery, etc.) to mitigate any possible problems. The Tuscarora situation is a classic case whereby the BLM refuses to conduct on-the-range management and reverts to the roundup-removal practice which has already been acknowledged by the Interior Secretary to be an unsustainable practice.  In the case of the horses at Owhyee, just like the horses at Calico, the result is needless suffering and death. Thanks to this broken system, we have more wild horses in government holding facilities (36,000) than free on the range (33,000).

In addition to the BLM-created problem in Tuscarora, the BLM proceeded with using helicopters to roundup these horses in summer-desert temperatures while foals continue to be born. This means newborns and weeks-old foals and still-pregnant mares were run up to eight miles in desert heat. IDA has called for a moratorium on summer roundups and filed an administrative appeal to stop the Tuscarora roundup. We recently received the denial on the appeal and are reviewing our legal options.

We knew fighting the deeply-entrenched BLM would not be easy. We pledge to all the wild horses and burros who have lost their lives, families and freedom that we will continue to fight until these magnificent beings are truly protected and finally given their fair share of our public lands.

Stay tuned for our next action alert – another step in this long fight to bring about the change these animals deserve and need.