Updated 4:20 pm, Tuesday, October 14, 2014
CHEYENNE — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has rounded up several hundred more wild horses in southern Wyoming over the past few weeks than agency officials had estimated would be captured.
The BLM captured 1,263 wild horses in the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek herd management areas before the roundup ended Thursday.
The figure sparked anger in an animal group that had challenged the roundup.
Members of the Friends of Animals group came to Rock Springs last month to protest the roundup.
“We’ve gotten tremendous feedback of outrage from people in Wyoming and all over the country that the BLM is completely out of control,” group campaigns director Edita Birnkrant said.
Kristen Lenhardt, chief of communications for the BLM in Wyoming, said the agency was obligated to remove all the horses from so-called checkerboard lands where alternating parcels are in federal ownership. The agency is bound by a legal settlement agreement with area ranchers to remove the horses, she said.
In a decision document approving the roundup this summer, the BLM said the roundup zones held 806 horses when they were surveyed in April. Agency officials had estimated the roundup figure could reach 950.
Horse advocate groups sued the BLM in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the roundup, claiming the agency failed to follow environmental laws. The lawsuit is pending in federal court in Cheyenne.
BLM officials say horse advocate groups are responsible for the higher number of horses captured because court-ordered delays allowed more horses to enter the roundup zones.
Friends of Animals petitioned the U.S. Department of Interior this summer to grant Endangered Species Act protections to wild horses. Denver lawyer Jennifer Barnes said the group hasn’t received any substantive response from the federal agency.
“It really shows that these animals are threatened with possible extinction in the future especially if they continue managing them like this where they just take as many as they possibly can,” Barnes said.
The agency estimates that about 649 horses remain in the three herd management areas.
“There is still a thriving population out there,” Lenhardt said. “And we will continue to work to manage it according to the act, and the best management practices for the horses and the range.”
Lenhardt said the horses will be available for adoption but many are likely headed to federal long-term holding facilities.