Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Deadly Gathers of BLM

Horseback Magazine

Photo by Terry Fitch
By Steven Long
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – The Bureau of Land Management's concerted effort to thin the herds of wild horses on land it manages has proven deadly, so deadly in fact, that for each of the last two years (and this year’s not over yet) there have been fatalities on almost half of the “gathers” the agency has conducted.
And last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the roundups will continue as herds across the West will be reduced as horses are moved from their natural habitat to artificial refuges in the Midwest and East – this despite the 256 million acres potentially available to the animals on BLM lands.
BLM released fatality statistics from its roundups for the last two years to Horseback Magazine late Thursday.
In 2008, 45 percent of the roundups resulted in at least one fatality, and on one in Nevada, 27 horses died. The total number of deaths through injury or for other reasons totaled 126 animals last year.
The percentage of dead horses on BLM roundups this year is slightly worse at 46 percent resulting in at least one horse death. In July, a Wyoming gather proved fatal to 11 horses. To date this year, 79 horses have died as the agency rushes to clear wild horses from the West.
Experts have told Horseback Magazine that the massive roundups are leaving the western wild horse herds genetically bankrupt. . And chemical sterilization is taking its toll as well, they say.
Over the last two years a total of 205 horses have died at the agency’s hands during its gathers to thin the herds despite the vastness of the lands managed by BLM..
In BLM roundups, horses are often driven down miles of rocky slops by a roaring helicopter. Such was the case in Wyoming this year when 11 horses died at Coconut Creek. A total of 349 horses were caught in that gather.
Although helicopter induced stampedes result in fatalities, the agency is reluctant to classify a limping horse as injured.
The bureau classifies equine deaths two ways, according to national spokesman Tom Gorey of the agency’s Washington office.
It classifies horse deaths directly related to a gather as “the number of animals that died or were euthanized because of acute injuries or medical conditions brought about by the gather and removal process, including those that occurred during capture, sorting, and herding at the gather site. This category includes all animals euthanized for reasons related to gather activities.”
Translated from bureaucratese, these horses would not have died had they been left alone in their natural habitat.
All other deaths are lumped together in one group for “reasons related to chronic or pre-existing conditions such as body condition, lameness, and serious physical defects. This category includes all animals euthanized for reasons not related to gather activities.”
Gory classifies as myth reports that the agency views a 1 percent death rate as acceptable.
“There is no fatality rate that is considered acceptable to the BLM,” he said. “Our goal is zero percent fatalities in connection with gathers.”
Gory said a percentage of deaths lumped into the second category in 2008 was unusually high because they were “primarily related to Nevada horses that suffered serious health issues resulting from shortage of water and poor forage conditions because of drought and wildfire”
He said these horse deaths occurred at the Nevada Wild Horse Range, Roberts Mountain, New Pass/Ravenswood, and Augusta Herd Management Areas.
In fact, the agency reported that of the 126 deaths attributed to gathers last year, 106 of them fall into the latter category.

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