By WRAL Staff
RAWLINS, Wyo. — Some — but not all — wild horse advocates want the federal government to use pens near water sources instead of helicopters to gather wild horses in southern Wyoming this summer.
"Helicopter roundups are, first, costly, and not the most humane method of collecting horses in roundups," Linda Hanick of The Cloud Foundation told a Thursday hearing in Rawlins organized by the Bureau of Land Management. "There are other methods that work much more effectively."
BLM wild horse specialist Ben Smith said using pens that surround water sources may be cheaper but takes longer to gather horses. Serena Baker, a BLM spokeswoman, added that such "bait trapping" doesn't work well in expansive areas like the 1.6 million acres the BLM manages in southern Wyoming, the Rawlins Daily Times (http://bit.ly/13KVENF ) reported Friday.
The Salt Wells Creek Herd Management Area is home to about 1,400 wild horses in Carbon and Sweetwater counties. The BLM has received requests to remove wild horses from private land within the area's boundaries.
The BLM has maintained that helicopters are the most humane means to drive herds for collection. It has used helicopters and ground vehicles to drive herds since 1976, and plans a roundup in August. The Wyoming Farm Bureau supports the practice.
Northern Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Partners also opposed the use of helicopters at the meeting.
This week, an independent review of horse roundups in the West concluded the U.S. government would be better off investing in widespread fertility control and let nature cull any excess herds instead of spending millions to house them in overflowing holding pens.
A panel assembled by the National Science Academy's National Research Council, at the BLM's request, concluded the BLM's removal of nearly 100,000 horses from the Western range over the past decade is probably not easing ecological damage or reducing overpopulated herds.
By stepping in prematurely when food and water supplies remain adequate, and with most natural predators long gone, the land management agency is producing artificial conditions that ultimately serve to perpetuate population growth, the committee said Wednesday. It urged more use of contraceptives and other fertility control.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is among the livestock groups that have voiced support in the past for aggressive, increased use of fertility control but remain adamantly opposed to curtailing roundups. Horse advocates themselves are not united behind the idea of stepping up use of contraception on the range.
The conflict has intensified in recent years for cash-strapped federal land managers with skyrocketing bills for food and corrals, no room for incoming animals, and fewer public adoptions of those animals.
This year, the number of animals at holding facilities surpassed the estimated number on the range in 10 Western states for the first time since President Richard Nixon signed the Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
The BLM averaged removing 8,000 horses from the range each year from 2002 to 2011. In 2012, it spent 60 percent of its wild horse budget on holding facilities alone, or more than $40 million, the committee said.