BLM plans to reduce number of wild horses in Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area through gathering, fertility control

CRAIG, Colo. — The Bureau of Land Management said it will reduce the number of wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area to appropriate management levels, and will conduct subsequent gathers and fertility control over the next 10 years.

This decision means the BLM plans to gather 783 horses from the area starting on or around Sept. 1, said Chris Maesta with the BLM Colorado Little Snake Field Office. Of those 783 animals, 25 mares and 25 studs will be returned. The 25 mares will receive fertility control, he said. The BLM will work with other groups to determine which horses will go back into the wild.

He said the BLM estimates that about 896 horses are currently in and around the herd management area, which exceeds what the land can sustain.

Little Snake Field Manager Bruce Sillitoe said the BLM is committed to maintaining a healthy population of wild horses.

“More than 850 wild horses are in an area where the appropriate management level allows for up to 362,” Sillitoe said. “The removal of excess wild horses will reduce impacts to the rangeland, private property, sensitive plants, and other wildlife.”

Based on its environmental assessment, the BLM said this gathering "will not cause significant effects on the environment."

BLM plans to reduce number of wild horses in Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area through gathering, fertility control

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis wrote to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Monday, with the roundups about to begin, calling for a delay, though that was unlikely to occur.

“I remain extremely concerned with the historic scale and condensed time period of the BLM’s proposed round-ups at Sand Wash Basin. I believe that, through Colorado’s unique position as a state with a long history of innovation and care for our public lands and wildlife, we can work more collaboratively with the BLM to effectuate more scientific and humane outcomes to herd management,” Polis wrote.

“I encourage you to establish an immediate six-month moratorium on roundups, or long enough to ensure through stakeholder engagement to allow for a more thoughtful and inclusive process,” the governor went on to say.

I have suggested alternative approaches for wild horse management to @SecDebHaaland in person and in writing several times, and now as the Sand Wash wild horse roundup continues to near, I am asking to delay the roundup to explore more humane alternatives. pic.twitter.com/PBuZdXRUtr

— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) August 31, 2021

All the gathered horses will be put in private care through BLM's Adoption and Sales Programs and will receive vaccinations and other requirements before they are put up for adoption, unless they are too sick or injured to do so, Maesta said.

The adoptions will begin this fall or spring, he said.

The BLM manages and protects wild horses and burros on 26.9 million acres of public lands across 10 Western states, according to its website.

The bureau says an estimated 86,000 wild horses and burros living in 10 Western states is three times as many as public lands can sustain, according to the Associated Press.

Advocates dispute that, saying the emergency roundups are being driven by pressure from ranchers who don’t want mustangs competing with their livestock for limited forage and water.