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The plight of the wild horse
Photo courtesyL Bureau of Land Management

By Joshua Pilkington

Since the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act was passed, the current wild horse population in Colorado is at its highest point, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

While that may be great news to those who enjoy catching of glimpse of these emblems to the spirit of the west, it can also be a problem for the land on which the herds are kept and the horses themselves.

“We are committed to maintaining healthy population of wild horses in northwestern Colorado for the long-term,” said BLM Northwest Colorado District Manager Andrew Archuleta in a release requesting public input and comments on two potential wild horse gathers. “Current wild horse populations in Colorado are as high as they have been since before the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act was passed. To keep these wild horse populations healthy, we need to reduce the populations through gathers as well as maintain an active fertility control program to slow herd growth.”

A controversial practice, wild horse gathers are approved at the national level based on funding and priority. In order to maintain healthy populations of wild horses on healthy lands, the BLM will use approved methods such as bait and water trapping to capture excess wild horses and take them to a holding facility where they are made available for adoption or sale.

The two northwestern Colorado Herd Management Areas (HMA) in question are the Sand Wash Basin and Piceance-East Douglas.

At Sand Wash Basin the BLM is proposing to gather and remove approximately 514 excess wild horses from the HMA. Currently the BLM estimates that the 2018 wild horse population in the HMA and surrounding area is approximately 747 wild horses - 677 within the HMA and another 70 outside its boundaries. The established appropriate management level for the Sand Wash Basin HMA is between 163 and 362 wild horses.

Plans for a gather are also developing at the Piceance-East Douglas HMA. The BLM estimates that the current population of wild horses outside the HMA is 374 wild horses. The proposed gather will be focused on the areas outside the HMA. Inside the HMA, however, the 532 horses are also above the appropriate management level of 135 to 235.

According to the BLM, the two proposed gathers are not approved for this year, but the bureau continues to develop plans in case funding becomes available.

Not all, however, are on board with the wild horse gathers or the tactics used to entrap the animals.

Spirit of the Wild Horse, for example, is an organization that is dedicated to the preservation and protection of America’s wild horses and one that sees the BLM’s practices in a negative light.

“The BLM continues to remove wild horses from the land that was set aside for them, the government is wiping out the wild horses at an alarming rate,” voices Spirit of the Wild Horse’s website. “Currently there are 38,000 horses and burros in government holding facilities across the western United States and only 17,000 remaining in the wild.”

The organization has claimed that the BLM continues to remove horses from the wild even though they have no where to put them. They also claim there has been a massive reduction to the HMA’s in the west. New Mexico, for example, was once comprised of 18 HMA’s, that number has been reduced to two. According to the BLM, those two HMA’s are made up of nearly 29,000 acres on which 83 animals can be appropriately managed.

“If they do leave horses in the wild,” Spirit of the Wild Horse continues, “they are removing large numbers and not leaving a viable breeding population (minimum of 150 horses), which will eventually lead to inbreeding and destruction of the wild horse.”

Visit to discover more on the bureau’s horse gather procedures, learn about their adoption program and to participate in forums.

To learn more about Spirit of the Wild Horse or to donate visit





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