The Bureau of Land Management is planning to gather about 238 wild horses in two areas southwest of Meeker starting in mid-October.
David Boyd, BLM public affairs specialist for the northwest district, said the agency is removing the horses to maintain a healthy wild horse population in the area.
The BLM seeks to manage wild horses in balance with other land and resource uses in the area such as cattle grazing, wildlife, energy development and recreation, Boyd said.
The wild horses to be gathered are located outside of the Piceance–East Douglas herd management area.
There are two horse herds the BLM will gather — one on the west side of Colorado Highway 139 and another on the east side of the highway outside of the herd management area, Boyd said.
The last time horses were gathered in that area was 2006, Boyd said.
Boyd said wild horses in Colorado are domestic, North American breeds that are not native wildlife. Wild horses do not have a natural predator to effectively control their population, he said.
“If the herd is healthy, about every four years their numbers will double, and so it is an exponential growth rate,” he said. “The most effective way we have found to control their numbers to keep them from being over populated is to do these gathers.”
The BLM’s goal is to conduct wild horse roundups before a significant over-population problem occurs, the range becomes damaged or the horses starve, Boyd said.
“Sometimes people will ask, ‘Why are you doing this gather? The horses are not starving,’” Boyd said. “We don’t want to get there. We are trying to manage for a healthy wild horse herd.”
Gathered horses are placed in the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. One of the program’s goals is to allow residents to adopt the horses, Boyd said.
“One of the challenges we have is that we have far more horses in captivity now than we can adopt,” he said.
Despite having a hard time finding homes for the horses, Boyd said the BLM would not kill the animals. If they are not adopted, the horses will be sent to live in long-term pastures in the Midwest paid for by the BLM, Boyd said.
“Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that we are clearing out the last wild horse from the range and we won’t have any more,” Boyd said. “But, that is not what we are doing at all.”
Boyd said horses can be at risk of injury or death during the gathering.
“That is one of the things that is controversial with gathers,” he said. “Typically … mortality related to the gather is less than one percent, but it can happen.”
The wild horse gathering is scheduled to begin Oct. 11 with about 138 wild horses east of Highway 139, Boyd said.
The gathering of the 100 wild horses west of Highway 139, called the West Douglas Herd, is scheduled to begin Oct. 20.
The West Douglas Herd’s habitat is not as good as the habitat of the herd east of the highway, Boyd said.
The West Douglas Herd is smaller, which can create genetic problems over the years. Moreover, Boyd said the area is not suitable to manage horses.
“We just don’t feel we can manage a herd that is large enough to be genetically viable in that area and still be in balance with other uses, grazing and wildlife,” he said.
There are four wild horse herd management areas in Colorado. The Sandwash herd management area is located north of Maybell. A gathering of Sandwash area wild horses was last conducted in 2008, Boyd said.