There may be no greater icon of the American West than wild horses. Thundering hooves on the wide-open ranges that give way to looming mountains evoke a nostalgia for the country’s earlier years and the lore that grew from them. As with the mythology of the West, though, wild horses are a more complex issue than their imagery suggests.
As their numbers grow, their impact on public and private land multiplies, and managing them appropriately requires intervention. This can be done well or poorly; a proposal to bait-trap the animals leans toward the former.
The Bureau of Land Management Tres Rios Field Office is taking public comment on a proposal to use bait-trapping in managing the Spring Creek wild horse herd, which roams in Disappointment Valley, north of Dove Creek on the east side of the Dolores River. The proposal, submitted by the Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association, which worked with the Four Corners and Mesa Verde backcountry horsemen groups to suggest the plan, acknowledges the need to control the horses’ population but suggests that traditional round-up methods be replaced with a gentler approach. The BLM should heed the request.
Traditionally, wild horses in the Spring Creek Herd Management Area and elsewhere have been gathered by helicopter round-ups – an expensive method for the BLM and a traumatic event for the horses. The National Mustang Association finds that the last two Spring Creek Herd helicopter round-ups – in 2007 and 2011 – cost $937 and $2,400 per horse, respectively. Bait-trapping costs are $400-$1,700 per horse, according to the group’s proposal.
As important, though, is the trauma that the animals endure when subjected to a helicopter round-up. The injuries and effects – both immediate and enduring – are damaging to the animals. Too many die; none need to.
Bait-trapping lures the animals into a slowly enclosing pen with a range of enticements. They can include salt, hay, water, or even a mare in heat. Once the baited horses enter the pen – on their own power, with no hovering helicopter – a gate is triggered. From there, it can be transported to a holding facility for treatment or permanent relocation.
While still a fundamentally jarring experience for a wild animal, this scenario is far less terrorizing than a noisy, dusty, frightening helicopter wrangling event. There is every reason to adopt the plan.
The proposal’s proponents are clear in their commitment to the Spring Creek Herd’s well-being and have been working with the BLM on sterilization efforts to reduce the herd’s size over the long term. That work is slow to fully manifest but incrementally is decreasing the numbers of horses that the BLM must relocate using round-ups. There currently are no round-ups planned, but for those required in the future, baiting the horses is the correct approach.
The BLM is accepting comments on the bait-trapping plan through Saturday.