By Tracie Sullivan, The Spectrum
CEDAR CITY — Iron County Commissioners finally got an opportunity to see the fruits of their threats the last two months when the Bureau of Land Management brought the first bunch of wild horses — eight to be exact — off the range into Cedar City Monday.
But with an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 wild horses overpopulating Iron County, eight horses aren’t enough to stop the Iron County Commissioners from joining a recent lawsuit filed by local ranchers against the BLM.
The lawsuit is asking the courts to force federal officials to immediately reduce the wild horse populations on the range.
“It is absolutely not enough for us to not continue with our plans to attach the county to the lawsuit,” said Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller. “While we appreciate the BLM’s efforts trapping horses, reducing the numbers to the tune of 10 at a time will not get the job done.”
The lawsuit filed last week in the Salt Lake City U.S. District Court names Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, BLM Director Neil Kornze and BLM Utah Director Juan Palma as defendants.
The commissioners, who threatened the BLM last month to take care of the horses their own way, also said they believe the federal government has to be held accountable for not appropriately managing the horse numbers as required under the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
“They are breaking the law and they have to be held accountable for that and we believe that the lawsuit will help hold them accountable,” Miller said.
The county’s frustration in part comes from the fact that after threatening the BLM a little more than a month ago, federal officials agreed to work with the county to start reducing the wild horse numbers starting on private property.
Since then, however, only one corral has been set up and only these horses have been brought in. A drop in the bucket compared to what’s left, Miller said.
“That’s why no options have been taken off the table,” he said. “At this time I feel we can’t take anything off the table because at this rate we’re not going to get those numbers reduced.”
Palma acknowledged last Monday in a county commissioner meeting that, since signing the contract, the BLM had made no headway in reducing the wild horse numbers and could not promise if and when that would happen in the future.
Wild horse specialist Chad Hunter said Monday that the process to round up or trap wild horses on the range can take years. Even on private property it’s usually a year, he added.
“The only reason these horses didn’t require that time is because we dropped everything to deal with it, and we can’t normally do that,” Hunter said. “We have a lot of other responsibilities like land management, gas and oil leases. There are a lot of other responsibilities the BLM is tasked with.”
Fed up with waiting, the ranchers went ahead and filed the suit out of what they said was “desperation.”
Iron County natural resource specialist Mike Worthen said Monday he believed the BLM was encumbered by rules and laws that prevented them from doing their job.
Miller agreed saying the mismanagement of the wild horses is more proof of why the public lands should be returned to the states.
The BLM is currently reviewing four requests to have corrals set up on private property for the removal of wild horses: two in Iron County and two in Beaver, Hunter said.
One of the four requests is in the Bible Springs Complex, an area the BLM recently conducted an environmental assessment at as required under the 1971 law prior to removing wild horses.
As part of that process, the BLM posted a notice April 30 requesting public comments on the results of the EA that states an additional environmental impact study does not need to be done.
Hunter was unable to provide an estimate of how long it would be before any of the requests were granted.