SALT LAKE CITY Federal officials plan to round up thousands of wild horses and burros across six Western states starting today.
The roundups will take place through February on drought-stricken range lands in Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
Contractors for the Bureau of Land Management will use helicopters plus bait- and water-trapping methods to corral 3,500 wild horses and burros, officials said.
In addition, more than 900 other horses will be captured for birth-control injections and returned to range lands.
The government is already holding 47,000 horses, most of them on green pasture in the Midwest. Bureau of Land Management officials said it was a popular misconception that they send horses to slaughterhouses. The animals are protected under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
A small number of horses are put up for adoption, but most horses are kept until their final days in permanent corrals, officials said.
Owners of adopted horses must swear under the penalty of law that they do not plan to send horses to slaughter, said Heather Emmons, a BLM spokeswoman in Reno, Nev.
The BLMs ability to care for ever-rising numbers of wild horses is a decision left to Congress, she said. The BLM said there are 11,000 more wild horses roaming public lands across the West than can be sustained by the habitat.
In all, there are 37,300 wild horses and burros on public range lands across 10 Western states, including Colorado, the government says.
Officials said they have no choice but to cull wild horse herds. With virtually no predators, they say, the herds can double in population every four years.
Horse-advocacy groups have been critical of government roundups and what they call the rough treatment of gathered horses.
They arent placing enough wild horses through adoption so they need to put a freeze on roundups, said Anne Novak, executive director of Berkeley, Calif.-based group Protect Mustangs. Killing them is not a solution. Selling them to slaughter is not a solution. They need to be responsible for their actions and stop the gluttony of roundups at taxpayer expense.
BLM officials say comments suggesting they kill horses are irresponsible.
We do not send horses to slaughterhouses, said Chris Hanefeld, a BLM spokesman in Ely, Nev. You can quote me.
Several multi-month roundups will get under way across Nevada starting today. Officials plan to hold those horses at pens at Palomino Valley near Reno or at Utahs Gunnison Correctional Facility until they can be prepared for adoption or sent to long-term pasture in the Midwest.
In Utah, one 400-horse roundup is planned for the Cedar Mountain herd, known as Utahs Rainbow Herd because of its high number of pintos, roans, buckskins and grays. The herd is thought to be related to the mounts that the Standard Horse and Mule Co. supplied the U.S. Cavalry in the late 1800s.
Officials say they will release 250 of the Cedar Mountain horses after injecting them with a contraceptive. Roundups also will take place in two other Utah locations.
In New Mexico, officials say 102 horses will be rounded up and 66 later released on the Carson National Forest. Another roundup will take place for 365 horses in the high desert of the Jiicarilla Wild Horse Territory. Ninety of those horses will be returned to the land after fertility injections.