Wild Horse Education

NEWS: Activists call for BLM to reform… (The Hill)

Activists call for BLM to reform wild horse roundups, as multiple animals die amid summer heat

BY SHARON UDASIN – 07/30/23 4:22 PM ET (The Hill)

Following the deaths of multiple wild horses during public land roundups in Nevada this summer, activists are pressing for urgent change in the ways the federal government controls the U.S. West’s sprawling equine population.

“This is probably the worst roundup I’ve seen in a very, very, very long time,” Laura Leigh, founder of the Nevada-based nonprofit organization Wild Horse Education, told The Hill.

“This is July — this is a tense time on the range, even when there isn’t a helicopter flying,” Leigh said. “The stallions are more agitated, the mares are more agitated; they’re going to be more likely to try to escape. You’ve got the heat.”

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducts these “gathers” to both protect horse health and prevent “unnecessary degradation of public lands,” using helicopters to wrangle the animals into a corral and then onto a trailer. They are then transported to federal facilities, where they are either prepared for adoption or cared for on off-range pastures, according to the BLM.

Activists have been fighting the gather and removal process for years, arguing that the practice is harmful to animal welfare and that the noise from the choppers terrifies the horses. Now, they are calling out what they see as the particularly brutal effects of the process over the past few weeks.

From July 9-24 alone, Leigh and her team counted at least 19 wild horses that died during roundups in the eastern Nevada Antelope Complex-South and Antelope Complex-North gathers.

Three animals suffered from broken necks, three from broken rear legs and several others from heat-related illnesses, the activists observed. By Thursday, they said the death toll was up to 21.

One episode, captured on video last week, involved a Palomino stallion named “Sunshine Man” who endured a fracture while attempting an escape and was eventually shot, according to Leigh.

Added for context by WHE: Sunshine, stallion that broke his leg on July 13 at the Antelope Complex roundup and then was chased 35 minutes before being killed.

“He has mares, he has babies. He’s being pressured from above by the scariest predator he’s ever known and drawn in near human beings that terrify him,” she recalled.

With this incident in mind, Wild Horse Education this week filed a lawsuit against the BLM in the U.S. District Court of Nevada, calling for judges to address what the group characterizes as abuse issues, policy violations and failures to take action that would reduce suffering.

“The BLM’s helicopters chased stallions, mares and foals, causing such panic that many animals were injured or broke their legs and had to be euthanized,” the lawsuit states.

Leigh also found fault with the fact that these roundups take place in July, which animal rights activists still consider to be foaling season — when mares give birth to their foals.

The BLM, however, only prohibits the use of helicopters to gather wild horses during what the agency designates as “peak foaling season,” between March 1 and June 30.

Science meets these definitions somewhere in the middle, with Colorado State University researchers characterizing “primary breeding season” as stretching from March 1 to August 1.

“It’s pretty easy to understand why a nursing mare or a pregnant mare and little foal would have difficulty,” Leigh said. “What people don’t understand is that the stallions are also in high gear, trying to protect their families.”

The extreme heat conditions that have overtaken much of the country over the past few weeks have also affected the animals, Leigh continued, noting that death tolls could be much higher, as those that occur following transport are unknown.

“BLM does not count the deaths that occur once those horses are trucked off the range, hundreds of miles in a moving tin can, in a heatwave,” she said.

You can read the rest of the coverage from the Hill at this link, Click HERE.

More from Leigh in the extended piece:

“That’s not because we have too many horses. It’s because the habitat is too fragmented,” Leigh said. “Habitat fragmentation and habitat loss is the main driver of problems for all wildlife, wild horses included.”

Although such cattle grazing can have major consequences, public lands ranching is only responsible for about 3 percent of the country’s meat supply, added Leigh, noting that the industry’s “time has come and gone.”

“We never talk about how industry is impacting wild horses — we try to blame wild horses for an impact to industry,” she said.

Our team is hard at work and will have updates on the roundup and the fight to gain an enforceable and effective humane handling policy soon.

Thank you for keeping us in the fight!

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