In the early 1970s, the movie, “Billy Jack,” drew national attention to the plight of wild horses in the American West.
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has jurisdiction over 26,000,000 acres of federal land across the Western States of N.D., S.D., Mont., Idaho, Wyo., Colo., Utah, N.M., Ariz., Nev., Calif., Ore., and Wash.
In 2021, 145 wild horses and burros died inside BLM’s holding facilities that critics claim are inhumane due to being overcrowded with filthy conditions existing in undersized holding areas.
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, a national nonprofit organization contends that the freedom of wild horses and burros to roam is being taken away by BLM.
The nonprofit organization notes that the stated goal of BLM for 2022 is to round up 19,000 more wild horses and burros after removing 13,666 from the open range in 2021.
According to an AP release on June 14, the BLM is gathering wild horses in Rio Blanco County’s Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management area, and the roundup is to continue into July.
BLM is using food and water to lure the wild horses as bait, and once the horses are in captivity, helicopters and horseback riders are deployed to corral them.
Statistics provided by BLM note that malnourishment has occurred with the wild horses on the range that is suitable for providing grazing for only 234 wild horses rather than the 1,385 wild horses there that represent a damaging force to the range itself while resulting in the herd’s malnourishment.
Strangles has a mortality rate of 10%, but under adverse conditions such as overcrowding, the rate can spike to 40%.
The symptoms of strangles are abscesses under the chin and lower jaw, and the horse suffering from strangles may run a high fever and secrete a thick, white nasal discharge. Also, the lymph nodes under the jaw or throat area may become swollen.
On its website, BLM touts that the wild horses it contains in pens receive vaccinations commonly given to equines to prevent a number of diseases.
Vaccines include tetanus, Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis, West Nile virus, rabies virus, and respiratory pathogens.
Also, vaccines for equine influenza (flu), equine rhino pneumonitis (rhinoviruses), and streptococcus equine (also known as strangles or equine distemper) are provided to prevent the spread of equine diseases.
BLM also maintains that equine disease can result from malnourishment that occurs as a result of overpopulation.
Also, the lack of natural predators in the open range where a herd’s population without proper management may double in number within 4-5 years, drives BLM actions to prevent a given environment from becoming unable to provide the herd’s nutritional needs.
Two programs have been devised by BLM to deal with the overcrowding of wild horses and burros. Both an adoption program and a sales program help find homes for wild horses and burros.
Nonprofit organizations, state prisons and county jails have provided help via volunteers who help tame the wild horses and burros in order to prepare them for their new domestic homes.
Also, BLM pays rent to ranchers to provide grazing areas for those wild horses and burros that the other two programs cannot accommodate.
BLM operates 177 herd management areas (HMA), and BLM’s officials are aware that each herd has its own unique genetic history that determines coloring and anatomical features in terms of size and weight distribution.
Officials at BLM are aware that unique terrain and natural resources surround the various herds, and those conditions are taken into consideration via the care BLM provides once the wild horses and burros are gathered.
According to the publication, “The Horse; Your Guide to Equine Health Care,” BLM’s goal is to safely and humanely gather horses.
Helicopters are deployed when feasible to accomplish the gathering of the wild horses and burros, and BLM views the use of helicopters as being as safe as using horseback riders.
With the stated goal of periodically conducting roundups to keep the range from being overgrazed and damaged while preventing malnutrition and widespread disease in herds of wild horses and burros, BLM was unable to prevent the El outbreak reported on May 7 that killed 29 wild horses in its holding facility in Colo., and the month before, wild horses being contained in BLM’s pens became infected with respiratory infections due to conditions brought about by close proximity to other horses.
On May 11 in Casper, Wyo., 11 more wild horses died at the Wheatland Corral where 2,750 other wild horses were suffering from the highly contagious strangles infection. Fortunately, the death rate had been limited to .08% at the time of the report.