'If those animals aren't removed, there could be a lot of death on the landscape'
HINES, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Hundreds of wild horses roaming the rangelands of Eastern Oregon are being gathered and removed because of extreme drought and overpopulation.
Tara Thissell, public affairs specialist with Burns District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management led a group of spectators watching wild horses be rounded up by helicopter on Tuesday.
Thissell said the combination of overpopulation and severe drought in the Palomino Buttes Herd Management Area, puts the horses at serious risk.
"In addition, if those animals aren't removed, there could be a lot of death on the landscape,” Thissell said.
A total of the 220 of the 430 wild horses are being removed.
Wild Horse and Burro Program Supervisor Rob Sharp said the gather is happening for a reason.
"This is kind of, I guess you'd say, the purpose of our program,” Sharp said.
He said the target range of horses to live in the area is between 32 and 64.
Sharp said removing nearly half of the current horses and finding them new homes could save their lives.
"Life out on the range can be pretty tough, and they don't live as long as they do in domestic life,” Sharp said.
Once gathered, the horses are hosed down and put into trailers, then taken to the Oregon Off Range Wild Horse and Burro Corral Holding Facility in Hines.
All of the mustangs collected in the gather will join the nearly 800 other horses at the facility waiting for adoption.
When the horses get to the facility, they are dewormed, vet-checked, vaccinated, microchipped and if over 5 months old, waiting for a new owner.
"Some horses have been there for 1-2 weeks, because they were gathered in a different area,” Thissell said. “And some horses have been there for 2-3 years."
Thissell said wild horses can be used for rodeos, law enforcement, private care and many other uses.
"What I've seen in the 20 years I've been here is that it seems to be a fairly easy adjustment,” Thissell said. “There are very few horses that don't adapt well in private care."
She said the problem is that not many people are adopting right now.
"I think the equine market in general is fairly flooded right now, so it is hard to put animals into private care,” Thissell said.
Thissell said if horses are not adopted, they go to long-term holding pastures, mostly in the Midwest. She said there are close to 50,000 horses in holding pastures nationwide.
But Thissell emphasized that rounded-up horses are never brought to slaughter houses.
"So the agency does not sell animals to slaughter, period,” Thissell said.
Sharp said removing the horses is necessary for the future.
"I mean, we're just setting this piece of landscape up for the next generation of horses,” Sharp said.
Thissell feels it is the BLM’s responsibility to step in.
"But I guess the bottom line for us is, they exist on public land, and they're here for us to take care of,” Thissell said.
And it's far from the only such wild horse roundup happening in the drought-stricken west -- or in Eastern Oregon. Another was announced only Tuesday:
Bureau of Land Management Plans Emergency Wild Horse Gather on Barren Valley Complex in southeast Oregon
VALE, Ore. – Due to extreme drought conditions, the Bureau of Land Management Vale District will begin an emergency helicopter gather of wild horses within and immediately adjacent to the Barren Valley Complex beginning September 8.
“They are dying for lack of water and food,” said Shaney Rockefeller, Vale Wild Horse Specialist. “A large percentage of the horses are emaciated and dehydrated.”
The complex is located in southern Malheur and Harney Counties and includes Coyote Lake/Alvord-Tule Springs, Sheepshead/Heath Creek and Sand Springs Herd Management Areas (HMAs). The three HMAs are managed as a complex because horses routinely move between the three areas, which span nearly 1 million acres.
In June 2021, approximately 2500 wild horses were counted in the complex. The Appropriate Management Level – the number of horses the range can sustainably support in conjunction with other animals and resource uses – for this area is 459-892 horses. Local ranchers are assisting the BLM with providing water to the horses, which are scattered across nearly a million acres of rangeland.
The Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 gives BLM the direction for protecting and overseeing wild horses and burros on public lands. In managing these animals, the BLM works to maintain a thriving ecological balance that supports healthy horses on healthy rangelands that provide adequate habitat, forage and water for horses, wildlife, including Greater Sage-grouse, and livestock.
Animals gathered from the range will be transported to BLM’s Off-Range Wild Horse and Burro Corrals in Bruneau, Idaho, and Reno, Nev. About 100 horses will be selected for return to the range when conditions allow. The remaining horses will be prepared for adoption or sale into private care or long-term holding.
When possible, the media and public will be allowed to observe the gather. For more information regarding viewing, contact gather Public Affairs Specialist Larisa Bogardus at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-523-1407. Viewing will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, with no more than 15 viewers allowed per day.
Supporting National Environmental Policy Act documents for this gather are available on the BLM’s ePlanning web site at https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/1504535/510
The gather is expected to last 30 days, though exact start and end dates will be determined by the contractor’s availability. Supporting National Environmental Policy Act documents for this gather are available on the BLM’s ePlanning web site at https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/1504535/510
For more information about BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, visit BLM.gov/WHB.