Death Toll Mounts at Utah Roundup

July 7, 2016 ….Right now, as we write this, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) helicopters are in the air terrorizing and stampeding beautiful and innocent wild horse families who, until last week, were living peacefully with their families on our public lands in western Utah. 

Summertime roundups are particularly inhumane, as horses are forced to run for miles in soaring high desert temperatures. It’s also the time of year when foals are very young. When these tiny, fragile animals are stampeded by helicopters, they often fall behind and are unable to keep up with their mothers. Left behind on the range, they are either roped by BLM wranglers and dragged into the trap, or are simply lost….orphaned and left alone to die.

According to the BLM, as of yesterday, 258 wild horses had been captured and permanently removed from the Conger Herd Management Area (HMA). Four horses have died from traumatic injuries:

  • A 2-year old colt rammed into a trap panel, broke his neck and died.
  • A 3-year old pinto mare died slammed into a trap panel, broke her neck and died.
  • A little sorrel foal was kicked in the mouth at the trap site, sustaining a severe fracture. He was euthanized via gunshot by the BLM.
  • A 10-year old dun mare slammed into a trap panel, broke her neck and died. A Return to Freedom observer captured photos of this beautiful mare moments before she died, being stampeded into the trap with her offspring – a lovely yearling and a tiny foal, who is now an orphan.

It’s possible that the high number of traumatic deaths and the number of foals reported to be left behind in the stampede can be attributed to the relative inexperience of the BLM round up contractor, Samson Livestock, as compared to the usual BLM contractor, Cattoor Livestock. It’s also testament to the shortcomings of the BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program Standards (CAWPS), which allow helicopter drives to be conducted in temperatures up to 105 degrees F., and even allow roundups at temperatures below 10 degrees F. at the discretion of the BLM staff person in charge. This is counter to a recommendation by livestock handling expert Temple Grandin that the BLM should avoid rounding up wild horses and burros in temperatures that exceed 90 degrees or fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The CAWPS also fail to include any firm restrictions on the distance or speed at which horses or burros can be chased in helicopter drives -- everything is left up to the discretion of the BLM.   

The roundup now continues in the Frisco HMA, where the BLM intends to permanently remove 272 wild horses from their home on the range in a roundup that will continue traumatize these federally-protected animals and rob them of the two things they cherish most – their freedom and their families.

After removing more than 50% of the Conger and Frisco wild horse populations and leaving just 100 horses behind in each of these HMAs, the BLM intends to conduct a research study on the “natural behavior” of these herds. However, no valid data on natural behavior can be obtained from wild horse populations that have been completely fractured and traumatized with a violent roundup, which removed over half the population and shattered the social organization of these herds. Even worse, the BLM intends to use this research as an excuse to geld (castrate) 75% of the stallions in the Conger HMA, an action that will further destroy the integrity and viability of this federally-protected wild horse herd.

The tragedy befalling the magnificent wild horses of western Utah at the hands of the BLM is emblematic of the agency’s entire devastating approach to management of our remaining wild horse and burro herds. In memory of the beautiful horses who have lost and will lose their lives in this most recent BLM roundup, we carry on our work to save our remaining wild horse and burro herds.

Stay up to date with reports from the roundup by Return to Freedom, which has an observer present onsite.