Utah’s wild horse and burro population is estimated at 5,746 animals; however, according to the BLM the land can only support 1,956.
The Bureau of Land Management has gathered up 304 wild horses near the Utah-Nevada Border on Highway 6.
The operation was initiated in Western Utah’s Confusion Herd Management Area on Nov. 29 by the BLM’s Fillmore Field Office .
According to Lisa Reid, the public affairs officer for the bureau, the last time they gathered in Confusion was in 2010, with 162 horses gathered. This year, she said the 304 rounded up was fewer than the 591 wild horses they had hoped to gather to reduce the current population of approximately 661 horses.
“There should only be 70 to 115 horses in that herd management area,” Reid said, adding that these guidelines were set back in the ’70s and were based on the number of horses that were on the range at that time in those particular areas. “The reason the numbers have gotten so high is simply because we have not gathered them, and they reproduce at a rate of 20% a year.”
The impacts of the wild horse population getting too high is similar to any wildlife in that if they’re not managed, their population size will become out of control, she said.
“We start seeing impacts to their bodies,” she said.
A majority of the mares they gathered had a very low body score, a number they use to gauge the health of the horse. As soon as a wild horse goes into their first heat, which is 6 months to a year, they are bred, she said.
“They’re pregnant for 11 to 12 months and then re-bred in their full heat, so there’s not really a day in their life that they’re not pregnant from the time they hit their first cycle. And then they’re having babies every year. It really takes a toll on them when they have one nursing and then have a yearling.”
Because of this, she said, oftentimes the horse’s health will weaken as they are not only trying to maintain themselves but also their offspring.
All of the horses will be put into their system and prepped, which means they will have a freeze mark (which is like their social security number) and all their vaccinations. Then they’ll be further prepped for the adoption program, which is now called the private care program, she said, adding that it takes between 30 and 60 days to complete this process.
“If we do the non-reproduction component, then we will return a handful of horses back onto the range,” she said. The “non-reproduction component” is when they permanently sterilize the mares.
Of the 304 horses gathered, five were euthanized due to pre-existing conditions or because they were injured during the gathering, she said. One of the horses got its foot hung in something and it became swollen. The veterinarian believed the horse had a fracture, she said, so they euthanized it.
Horses were removed using the helicopter drive-trapping method and will be transported to the Axtell Off-Range Contract Wild Horse Facility in Axtell. A trap is set close to where the horses are and then a helicopter gathers them, as a sheep dog might do with cattle.
“The stress is very minimal compared to other methods that we’ve used,” she said.
“The horses are being taken care of because that is our number one priority,” she said. “We hope to have them available for adoption by spring.”
Reid said they have seen a significant reduction in adoptions this year due to the economic decline.
Since implementing a new component to the program, where the bureau will pay people $1,000 to adopt a horse, she said they have seen an increase in adoptions. In 2019, they adopted out 7,100 horses on a national level.
The horses who are not adopted end up in long-range pastures that are located across the United States and dedicated to wild horses.
“It’s basically a retirement home out there for the horses, and so they just live out there until they pass away.”
Written by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News