Eyewitness Report on BLM Swasey Roundup, February 12, 2013
The Swasey Herd Management Area is a vast, 120,000-acre stretch of land about 160 miles southwest of Salt Lake City in Utah. The HMA straddles the picturesque and rugged Swasey Mountains and lies in close proximity to two other Utah HMAS – Confusion and Conger, which lie to the West and southwest of Swasey.
On the morning before the roundup, Neda DeMayo, CEO of Return to Freedom and founder of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, RTF supporter Nancy Franzoni and I ventured out into the HMA to find the Swasey mustangs on their last day of freedom. A fresh coat of snow blanketed these lands where wild horses roam. The sky was breathtakingly blue and the sun was shining, but horses were nowhere to be found.
BLM said that the horses were high up in the hills, accessible mostly by foot or through roads that were impassable due to snow. BLM said the horses were located in the higher elevations despite winter conditions due to lack of feed, but said nothing of the thousands of sheep that are given access to the most productive areas of the HMA during the winter months.
The only animal to be seen that day was this lovely badger on the way out of the HMA. But we knew the horses were there, and we knew that the following day, the BLM helicopters would find them.
On Tuesday, February 12, 2013, the roundup began on a freezing cold and gray winter day. Although BLM tweeted that temperatures were in 32 degrees, the reality was quite a bit colder, and temperatures seemed to drop, rather than rise, as the day progressed. About two dozen observers, including wild horse advocates, media, and members of the public, were on hand to witness the roundup this day. In addition to myself, Neda and Nancy, wild horse advocates present on scene included Ginger Kathrens, Lauryn Wachs and Lisa Friday from our coalition partner, The Cloud Foundation.
The roundup was conducted by Cattoor Livestock Roundups, Inc., admittedly the more skilled of BLM’s two contract wrangler operations. Although there were no reported injuries that day, some horses did fall on the slippery conditions when they entered the trap.
There was also one large group stampeded into the trap from far out in the mountains that came in sweating and steaming despite the bitter cold temperatures. A BLM official claimed that the horses were run for no more than 5 miles, but since the agency refuses to install video cameras on the roundup helicopters, there is no way to verify what is happening to the horses when they are being stampeded until they come into the area of the trap site, where the public is allowed to observe.
In all 97 wild horses lost their freedom on February 12 at the Swasey HMA, and it was heartbreaking to watch as these magnificent animals were trapped, loaded onto trailers and carted away from the lands of their birth.
The following day, we viewed 3 pens of little foals who had been captured on Tuesday and transported to the BLM’s Delta Holding Corrals. These little ones, so recently separated from their families, huddled together, unsure of what their future holds. Only a small percentage of these young horses will be adopted; some will stay in these holding pens, in feedlot-like conditions for two to three years before being sent to a long-term holding facility.
As for all wild horses captured from BLM lands, the threat of slaughter is ever-present for the Swasey mustangs. As BLM holding facilities reach capacity and the agency continues to remove horses from the land, the pressure to slaughter these American icons becomes stronger. For now, there are some beautiful young horses up for adoption at the Delta holding corrals. If anyone can provide a good home for one or more of these innocent animals, please call the BLM at (435) 743-3100 for information on adopting these horses.
The Swasey roundup ended on Saturday February 16, with a total of 257 wild horses captured, 160 wild horses permanently removed, and 97 horses (53 stallions and 44 mares treated with PZP) returned to the range.
For more information, please read the Salt Lake Tribune article on the roundup.