BLM captures 18 wild horses from Piceance herd ahead of helicopter rally
In the first three weeks of the latest Colorado wild horse roundup, the Bureau of Land Management rounded up 18 horses from the Piceance-East Douglas herd management area west of Meeker using a bait and trap method.
The agency estimates there are up to 1,385 feral horses in and around the herd management area, which is well above the BLM‘s appropriate management level of 135 to 235 horses.
“It’s a very slow process,” Chris Maestas, a BLM public affairs specialist based in Colorado’s Northwest District, said of the bait-and-trap method.
The second phase of the roundup will use helicopters – like the record-breaking Sand Wash Basin rally last year – and is set to begin on July 15. Maestas said the BLM plans to appoint a contractor for the roundup operations on Friday, July 8, after issuing a call for tenders, and would likely be on site shortly thereafter.
The helicopter muster could take about a month, Maestas said, although a more detailed timeline will not be known until the contractor is hired. The goal is to get as close to the BLM’s desired level of management as possible, but the contract will also identify a “not-to-exceed timeline.”
“There could be some flexibility to go a bit longer,” Maestas said. “We will have more details as this contract is facilitated.”
If the horses are rounded up at the BLM management level for the Piceance East Douglas area, up to 1,250 horses could be pulled from the lineup. That would represent about two-thirds of all remaining feral horses in Colorado, according to March 2022 population estimates, and that would exceed the 632 horses removed from the sandwash pond in Moffat County last year as largest gathering of wild horses in state history. .
Started on June 16, the first phase of the collection used a method of baiting wild horses with water or hay and trapping them in a remote-controlled corral. It brought in a fraction of the total number of horses the BLM hopes for, but Maestas said 18 horses were relatively successful for this method.
The same tactic was applied in the Sand Wash Basin in January 2021 with 10 horses herded in four days.
The BLM set up the corrals on June 16 but did not round up any horses until June 27, intending to acclimate them to the traps first. Four horses were rounded up on June 28 and another 14 on June 29. Efforts on June 30 yielded no horses, and operations were not carried out from July 1–6.
Of the 18 gathered, eight are stallions, seven mares and three foals. All were taken to BLM-contracted corrals in Axtell, Utah, where the horses will be processed for the agency’s adoption program.
“Axtell’s out of reach corrals are privately owned, have been under contract since 2015, and (Axtell) is a proven partner providing exceptional humane care and treatment to the animals in their care,” said Gus Warr. , BLM Utah’s Wild Horse and Burro Program Manager, in a statement.
Horses are being brought to corrals in Utah, in part because the BLM’s Cañon City detention facility was quarantined following an equine flu outbreak that killed 145 area horses. West Douglas Herd this spring. The facility is also approaching its 2,600 horsepower capacity.
A BLM probe found that vaccinations of newly rounded horses were not being done in a timely manner at Cañon City facilities. A lack of vaccinations has not been proven as the cause of the outbreak, but BLM officials say there will be a greater effort to ensure horses gathered at Piceance are properly vaccinated.
The herd management area has seen heavy rains in recent weeks, which the BLM says washed out some roads. In some areas there was a mudslide created by flash flooding, but Maestas said he does not expect it to push back the rally.
“The beach is dry and drying out, and (the rain) doesn’t soak in. It just runs off and creates a little mini landslide,” Masteas said. “We are prepared and equipped to begin (helicopter operations on July 15).”