Tue, Sep 5, 2023 1:21 PM
By Joe Mueller, The Center Square
The federal government gathered 81 wild horses in Colorado – 66% of its goal – during the first four days of a project to remove a herd in northwest Colorado.
The Bureau of Land Management started the wild horse gather on Sept. 1 in the West Douglas Herd Area, approximately 20 miles south of Rangely in Rio Blanco County. The government plans to remove the entire herd of approximately 122 wild horses from the area, state and private land.
“The numbers for this gather fluctuate each day so it is hard to say if it gets easier or harder as time goes on,” Brittany Sprout, a public affairs specialist for the Colorado's BLM office, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “Since our goal is to remove all horses from this area, we are taking our time to make sure they have all been gathered before we end operations.”
The area won’t adequately support habitat for wild horses due to limited water and food sources, according to the bureau.
The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act provides the bureau with the authority to restore the natural ecological balance and for public lands to be used in multiple ways. In 1975, the bureau stated the West Douglas Herd Area was insufficient for management of wild horses.
“The West Douglas Herd Area is not managed for wild horses due to limited food and water, which causes the horses to stray into private lands,” Bill Mills, the White River field office manager, said in a statement. “The removal of excess wild horses will protect the rangelands and reduce impacts to sensitive animal species and adjoining private properties.”
Gathering operations are conducted “by using helicopter drive trapping,” according to the bureau. The public can view the gathering operations as long as the safety of the animals, staff and observers isn’t jeopardized and the project isn’t disrupted.
Removed horses are transported to Cañon City, checked by a veterinarian and prepared for adoption. Colorado Department of Corrections inmates help to care for excess horses, according to the bureau.
“We look forward to later getting these animals out to adoption events in Colorado and into good homes,” Sprout said.
Those not placed in new homes are cared for in off-range grass pastures for the remainder of their lives.
The project area has complex terrain and lacks an adequate range during the summer. Wild horses have no natural predators and populations increase by approximately 20% annually when not managed, according to the bureau.
The Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management area, adjacent to the project area, is approximately 190,000 acres and the largest managed area for herds in the state. The appropriate number of wild horses in the area is between 135 and 235 animals.
In August 2021, the bureau removed 450 animals from West Douglas due to the Oil Springs Fire near the Colorado-Utah border.