The Bureau of Land Management plans to start a local wild-horse gather on Wednesday, two days later than planned, following the recent filing of a lawsuit challenging the action.
Agency spokesman Christopher Joyner said the BLM pushed back the gather “to ensure the courts had time to review the case.”
However, “We plan to proceed with the gather unless told differently” by the courts.
Activists are seeking an injunction to prevent the roundup from beginning before the case is further litigated. A four-hour hearing was held Friday and a federal judge’s ruling is being awaited, said Paula Todd King with the Cloud Foundation, one of the plaintiffs.
The BLM is hoping to remove 167 “excess” horses located within the jurisdiction of the White River Field Office, based in Meeker. Its primary target is horses in the West Douglas Herd Area, west of Colorado Highway 139 between Loma and Rangely. The BLM considers that area inappropriate for wild horses for reasons including its remoteness and difficult access for management purposes, lack of summer range, and the range damage that has been occurring there, Joyner said.
On Sept. 4, the Cloud Foundation, the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, the Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition, veterinarian Don Moore and Toni Moore of Fruita, and Barb Flores of Greeley sued seeking to stop the roundup. They argue the BLM failed to conduct the proper environmental analysis and abide by the requirements of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
They contend horses have inhabited the West Douglas area for centuries, and the BLM is blaming horses for damage caused by privately owned livestock. They also worry that the BLM will eliminate horses there.
The BLM estimates the West Douglas area is home to about 365 horses, while wild-horse advocates argue the number is far less.
“I just hope for the people of Colorado that we can save that herd, because once the BLM comes in and gets them out they’re gone,” King said.
The BLM plans to use bait and water to try to attract horses, and a helicopter to help herd them. Among the concerns of horse advocates is potential physical harm to animals as a result of the operation.
Joyner said a two-day delay shouldn’t hinder the BLM’s gather plans. The agency expects the project to take 10 to 12 working days, and perhaps less. If further delays occur, he said, problems could arise in areas where vehicle access becomes limited with the arrival of winter conditions.
The BLM plans to provide regular updates with information about the locations of daily gather operations at its White River Field Office website, http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/wrfo.html.