Sulphur Roundup: February 25, 2015

Photo by BLM

On February 25, 2015, the BLM began the removal of approximately 100 wild horses in Utah. Jim Schnepel of the Wild Horses of America Foundation was on the ground during the round up.

From the field:

Day 3

From BLM: A total of 27 horses were removed today, bringing the total to 103. All animals removed today were body class 4.

There were two deaths reported:

A 10-year old dun stud died due to chronic heart failure. 

An 11-year old bay mare died due to impact with corral panels at temporary holding. Both were body class 4. 

Several domestic horses were captured outside of the herd area. The exact number is unknown until confirmed by a Utah brand inspector. The final count including the breakdown of domestic and Sulphur wild horses will be posted as soon as possible.

Day 2

Report and photos by Jim Schnepel of the Wild Horses of America Foundation.

Milepost 25 - Highway 21 – Utah: Today, 61 (unofficial count) additional horses were removed from Utah’s Sulphur Herd. Adding the 14 who were captured yesterday, BLM is now 25 horses short of the 100 animals slated for removal. We started the day where we left off yesterday and I gave up on trying to capture any pictures since all of the activity was over a mile away. The pilot struggled again this morning and only a few were captured.

Fairly early in the day we watched a few minutes of high drama unfold as a recently born foal continued to lose ground as he (my choice of sex - unconfirmed) ran to catch up with a group of about 5 adults who were being pushed by the copter. The group included his mother, so he was particularly motivated to stay with them. Initially, he was able to stay with his band as they covered a fair distance, but as the trap approached the pace quickened and he lost a lot of ground in a hurry. It was sad to watch him run as hard as he could, only to watch his mother disappear into the distance. The BLM employees who were at the viewing spot with us were on the radio with the staff at the trap and kept them updated as to the foal’s location and status, and they kept reminding those of us with binoculars to keep track of him. Fortunately, he continued to run right up to the trap after the others had been caught, and he quickly bonded with the two saddled horses and riders who went out to retrieve him. He was guided to the trap and trailers, and reunited with his mother. We caught up with him later at the sorting pen and he seemed to be in good condition, though a bit tired.

The pilot had difficulty pushing more horses and in the late morning they decided to set up a new trap a few miles to the south. A few hours later the BLM led us to a viewing spot with a phenomenal view of the new trap in Pine Valley. Gus Warr (Utah BLM) said that since BLM personnel were conducting the removal, rather than it being outsourced to a contractor, they could allow us to get close, but we had to promise to stay low and remain unobtrusive as the horses approached. The pilot’s skill improved throughout the day and we were glad to see that he was getting much better at pushing the horses from a distance, and only having to get close when the herd broke up, or as they neared the trap and needed a more formal push.

We repeatedly watched as the pilot pushed groups down from the mountains that were behind us to the west. After the horses had been flushed down one of the numerous small canyons we would watch them appear to the east of our position out in the valley in the distance. Then, the helicopter would push them across our field of vision as they headed north, guide them back to the west and up a slight rise in elevation, and then sweep them back to the south and into the trap.

Most of the horses who were removed today were caught at the trap in Pine Valley. The pilot was successful at getting groups of horses ranging in number from 1-18 into the trap. However, a good number balked at the last second and escaped back downhill to the east of the trap. Some were caught again by the copter, but some made it back to the safety of the hills.

One group was pushed right into the trap and it looked like a done deal. However, one of the runners jumped out a second too early and spooked them in the wrong direction. 3 jumped over the jute fence and headed toward our viewing position. It was exciting to photograph their escape and I rooted for a successful run to the hills. But then I quickly realized that a successful exodus only meant that the helicopter would haze 3 different horses.

The weather conditions deteriorated throughout today, and BLM wasn’t sure if they would be flying again tomorrow. I packed my bags and headed for home.

As a parting thought, I want to thank the Utah BLM personnel for being accommodating. They were very good about answering our questions and making sure that we had the best vantage points possible. I realize that a number of people involved in horse advocacy are quick to condemn the BLM and its methods. While I agree that some of BLM’s actions and methods need changing, I can’t deny that this group of employees was very professional in how they handled the horses and in how they interacted with the public observers.

More photos from day 2 here.

Day 1:

(Report and photos by Jim Schnepel of Wild Horses of America Foundation.)

Milepost 25 - Highway 21 – Utah: Only 14 horses were removed today, which leaves the BLM 86 horses short of its removal goal for the Sulphur Herd. Things got off to a slow start and only 4 horses were in the trap by noon. This was generally attributed to a helicopter pilot without a properly honed horse sense, and skittish horses who may remember the same trap location from a prior removal.

Things picked up after noon and the pilot was better-able to move small groups of horses toward the trap, but some still escaped to the hills to the west of the jute-covered fence line. Of note, toward the end of the afternoon, one stud horse proved to be particularly defiant and repeatedly led members of his group of 6 away from the trap, often reversing direction under the rotors of the copter. Ultimately, the stud escaped, but the pilot succeeded in pushing the others inside the gates of the trap.

The public viewing area was about 1 mile from the trap, which far exceeded capability of my 200mm lens. We spent most of the time talking about wild horse issues and occasionally looking through binoculars at the distant action. Tomorrow, we head back out to Milepost 25 to see if the remaining horses will be removed.

View of distant trap from public viewing area.

The Public, BLM officials, and a Reuters photographer.

This lone bachelor was on the other side of the highway and fence to be captured by the helicopter.

But he seemed interested in what was happening across the highway.

The judas horses.

The formerly wild.

Loading the trailer.

Off to the holding facility in Delta, Utah.