By Gib Mathers, Powell Tribune
A wild horse advocacy group is upset following the roundup of 41 horses in the area, but the federal and state agencies involved say their actions were legal.
The equines’ apparent imminent destruction — if it hasn’t already happened — at a slaughterhouse in Canada has further caused the horse advocates great discomfort.
The Bureau of Land Management said it collected unauthorized domestic horses and is adhering to the law. On March 18-19, under Bureau of Land Management supervision, 41 horses were rounded up using a helicopter near Sheep Mountain north of Greybull.
The animals were turned over to the Wyoming Livestock Board, Sarah Beckwith, a BLM public affairs specialist in Worland, said on Monday.
The Wyoming Livestock Board sold the horses to Bouvry Slaughterhouse in Canada, according to the Cloud Foundation, a wild horse advocacy group in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Beckwith said the state of Wyoming held an auction, but she does not know the details of what happened and where the horses were headed.
“The BLM pretty much washed their hands of it,” said Paula Todd King, Cloud Foundation communications director.
The public was informed in advance of the plan to capture the horses, according to the bureau. The bureau published a “Notice of Intent to Impound” in the Powell Tribune and Cody Enterprise on Feb. 25, the Lovell Chronicle on Feb. 27 and the Greybull Standard on March 6.
The bureau also placed notices in 10 post offices around the area, Beckwith said.
The Cloud Foundation did not know of the roundup until the captured horses were en route to Montana, King said.
According to the BLM, they were unauthorized domestic horses and not protected under the BLM Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The equines were descendants of privately owned abandoned domestic rodeo stock and had been occupying public lands somewhere between 30 and 40 years.
The horses were increasingly becoming a safety and range health issue, Beckwith said. The horses were straying onto private pastures and irrigated land.
Complaints mounted over the years, she said.
The horses frequented a bentonite haul road in the area. Several years ago, a horse died after being struck by a vehicle driven by an employee of a bentonite company en route to work.
Another horse was also euthanized after being struck by a train, according to Lesli J. Ellis, BLM Wyoming State Office acting chief of external affairs in an email response to the Tribune.
“The history of trespass issues with the original owner dates back to the 1980s and numerous trespass notices were issued,” Ellis said. “The original owner admitted ownership of the horses to the BLM in the 1990s, but said he was unable to catch them anymore. He passed away several years ago and the horses went unclaimed.”
The bureau was responsible for the horses’ capture. Under state estray laws, the state of Wyoming took possession once the horses were captured, Beckwith said.
The horses were near the Foster Gulch/Dry Creek Herd Area, but that wild horse management area was discontinued in 1987 due to lack of water and because there were no fences on the north and south boundaries so the wild horses could mix with domestic stock.
The bureau decided to concentrate its efforts on the McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Management Area east of Cody. The last Foster Gulch mustang was removed in 1987, Beckwith said.
“If the horses have lived in the area for 40 years as BLM states, it is entirely possible that these horses were descendants of the herd eliminated from management in 1987,” said Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Cloud Foundation.
“Every horse on public land does not make it a wild horse,” Beckwith said.
“Although the Wild Horses and Burros Act of 1971 defines wild horses as, ‘wild and free roaming horses means all unbranded and unclaimed horses on public lands of the United States,’ these estray (stray) horses were offspring of abandoned domestic livestock,” Ellis said.
Once the roundup was completed, the Livestock Board inspected for brands and ownership, Lee Romsa, Wyoming Livestock Board state brand commissioner in Cheyenne, said Monday.
None of the horses were branded. Once no ownership was verified, it was the board’s responsibility to see to the sale of the animals, Romsa said.
On March 19, the horses were sold as a bunch to the highest bidder for $1,640 for all 41.
Bouvry Exports Calgary, Ltd., was the name of the buyer on the inspection form. From there the horses were shipped to Shelby, Mont.
Romsa said he does not know if the horses were sold for slaughter. Of the 41, four colts were sold separately by Bouvry, Romsa said.
Bouvy had not returned a call by press time.
The last he knew the four colts were being hauled to Lodgegrass, Mont., Romsa said.
The minimum bid for captured bureau mustangs at auction is typically $125.
“The taxpayer-funded roundup was conducted with no notice of sale after the horses were impounded, giving no one the opportunity to step in and negotiate a deal to purchase any of the horses,” an April 1 Cloud Foundation news release stated.
Horses are expensive to feed so the board sells the equines as quickly as possible, according to Romsa.
“Our whole role is to determine ownership and if there is none to sell the animals,” he said.
“The inspector may cause any estray to be held for not more than ten (10) days after the inspection to enable him to complete his investigation of ownership,” says the Wyoming statute 11-24-102. “... If the rightful owner cannot be found, or when found, refuses or fails to pay the charges for feed and care of the estray, the inspector shall order the estray be disposed of.”
The statue also defines dispose: “(iv) “Disposal” means to sell, send to slaughter or destroy the animal.”
“These horses were rounded up and within hours they were on their way to the border,” said King, the Cloud Foundation member.
Kathrens called the Bouvry Shelby facility and offered to pay more than the going price for the horses and was told that this was not possible, King said.
“People abandon horses a lot these days,” Romsa said.
The price of hay is increasing and veterinarian care is costly among other factors. Some folks get in over their heads and are unable to care for their horses. He has seen cases where horses were left tied to trees in parks and others dropped off in pastures.
“Sadly it’s much more common than it used to be,” Romsa said.
“As long as (they were) domestic trespass horses I suppose they were within the law,” King said. “They could have done it differently. Whether it’s legal or not, it’s wrong.”
Romsa said he understands people’s emotional involvement in cases such as these.
“At the end of the day there are no easy solutions that I see,” he said.