GRAND JUNCTION – Federal authorities have moved up an operation to remove hundreds of wild horses from western Colorado from September to this week, citing poor rangeland conditions that threaten the health of many in the herd.
The Bureau of Land Management plans to start the gather in Rio Blanco County’s Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area on Thursday, The Daily Sentinel reported. Officials will spend a month using food and water to attract and trap horses, then use helicopters and horseback riders to corral more in July.
The BLM normally uses an agency-run holding facility in Canon City for wild horses gathered in the state. But about 145 horses collected last year from another western Colorado range died at the facility this spring of suspected equine influenza virus.
A preliminary inquiry determined many of the horses that died were partially or wholly unvaccinated against the virus. BLM protocol includes vaccinating captured horses.
The Cañon City holding facility has been placed under quarantine. The BLM said this week it would send horses from the upcoming gather to a Utah holding facility.
The U.S. government plans to capture more wild horses on federal lands this year than ever before, citing rangeland devastated by the megadrought gripping the U.S. West and horse overpopulation. Critics long have decried BLM policy as favoring ranchers who don’t want horses competing with their cattle and sheep for limited forage on agency rangeland.
In Piceance-East Douglas, the agency said the range can sustain 135 to 235 horses but that the population has exceeded 1,385. Visual assessments of the herd found much of the herd to be malnourished or in poor condition, it said.