Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Joe Neguse call for halt on wild horse roundup in Sand Wash Basin |

Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Joe Neguse call for halt on wild horse roundup in Sand Wash Basin

Colorado wildlife groups say livestock grazing should also stop

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin area in northwest Colorado will be gathered by the hundreds in the coming weeks by the Bureau of Land Management.
Bureau of Land Management/Courtesy photo

CRAIG — On Monday, Aug. 30, Gov. Jared Polis called on the Bureau of Land Management to stop a helicopter horse roundup in the Sand Wash Basin near Craig. Another high-profile elected official joined in the effort Tuesday, Aug. 31, when Rep. Joe Neguse also penned a letter to the bureau.

In a letter Monday to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director of Policy and Programs Nada Wolff Culver, Polis said he is “extremely concerned” at the pace and the sheer number of horses that are planned to be removed.

“I have received an outpouring of letters and phone calls from Coloradans across the state, deeply concerned by the suddenness and scale of these roundups,” Polis wrote in the letter. “There remain legitimate concerns about the fate of gathered horses, and I believe that better collaboration with the state and advocates could improve assurances about their long-term well-being and the avoidance of any slaughter.”

In the letter, Polis proposes the Bureau of Land Management immediately institute a six-month moratorium on roundups, allowing for better stakeholder engagement in the process, which he said has been lacking.

“I remain extremely concerned with the historic scale and condensed time period of the BLM’s proposed roundup at Sand Wash Basin,” Polis wrote. “I believe that, through Colorado’s unique position as a state with a long history of innovation and care for our public lands and wildlife, we can work more collaboratively with the BLM to effectuate more scientific and humane outcomes to herd management.”

Neguse, who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, asked Haaland and Wolff Culver to postpone the roundup, which was scheduled to begin Wednesday, Sept. 1, and expected to continue for the next two to three weeks.

As of Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management gave no indication of plans to halt the effort, which aims to gather about 783 wild horses from the Sand Wash Basin.

Colorado Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Manager Steve Leonard said the roundup “absolutely needs to happen.”

Bureau of Land Management Little Snake Field Office Manager Bruce Sillitoe echoed the statement, saying the roundup is considered an “emergency gather” which will “prevent further deteriorating body condition of the wild horses into the winter due to limited forage resources” due to exceptional drought.

The Colorado Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, says livestock grazing, not wild horses, has resulted in damage to the range. Leonard said cattle haven’t been in the area for years but that sheep do graze on Bureau of Land Management land in the Sand Wash Basin.

Sierra Club Colorado Wildlife Chair Delia Malone pointed out in a letter this week that grazing allotments in the area aren’t meeting the Bureau of Land Management’s land health standards due to livestock use.

“We encourage the BLM to promptly use their authority, after environmental analysis and public input, to reduce or eliminate livestock from the (Sand Wash Basin),” Malone wrote in a statement.

Other Colorado-based advocates have expressed similar concerns. One of the longest-existing horse advocacy groups in the nation, the Cloud Foundation, is based in Colorado.

“Despite the extreme drought reported in Colorado this year, the BLM continued to allow private livestock to graze in the Sand Wash Basin,” the Cloud Foundation wrote in a letter issued Tuesday.

“Nothing could be worse for a wild horse than to be rounded up by helicopter, separated from their families and incarcerated in cramped holding facilities,” wrote Ginger Kathrens, founder and board president of the Cloud Foundation. “In my three decades of documenting wild horses in their natural environment, I’ve learned that they cherish freedom and family above all else. These animals are protected by federal law. They represent the pioneer spirit of this nation, and they deserve to be treated humanely.”

Neguse, who has been vocal in his nonsupport of helicopter horse roundups in recent years, said he has heard numerous concerns from Coloradans regarding the number of wild horses being removed from public lands in Colorado.

A recent roundup in the West Douglas area south of Rangely removed 457 horses from Bureau of Land Management land in the area, with 10 horses killed during the effort. It was the largest helicopter roundup in Colorado’s history, and the Sand Wash Basin roundup is targeted to be even bigger.

“Coloradans have also raised concerns about the well-being of horses gathered through these roundups — both during and after a gather takes place — and with a roundup of this scope, there are safety concerns for these horses,“ Neguse wrote in the Aug. 31 letter. ”I would respectfully ask that you postpone the scheduled roundups in order to have a more thorough and robust stakeholder and community engagement process, and work with local and state partners to craft a solution for the long-term well-being of these horses.“

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