Bruce Finley for the Denver Post
Death toll hits 142 wild horses held captive in Colorado after BLM fails to vaccinate. Feds promise probe — and more roundups.
Feds promise review at Cañon City “temporary” facility but press ahead in effort to reduce mushrooming herds roaming arid public land
CAÑON CITY — A rising death toll of captive wild horses in fenced pens has hit 142 after federal caretakers failed to provide vaccinations in the latest breakdown of the government’s controversial holding system. This debacle has piqued concerns about humane treatment as the Bureau of Land Management ramps up roundups to reduce mushrooming mustang herds that roam free — along with cattle and sheep — on increasingly arid public lands.
BLM officials told the Denver Post they’ll investigate why 445 horses hauled from northwestern Colorado to Cañon City last summer weren’t fully vaccinated against equine flu.
Surviving chestnut, bay and painted mustangs this week wandered about the pens, which cover about 50 acres within a 120-acre holding facility next to a state prison — 2,550 horses in all. The sickness has infected primarily the unvaccinated horses and they are the ones that have perished.
Veterinarians said not much can be done to prevent more deaths as flu and follow-on bacterial infections take their course.
The outbreaks and die-offs here and at a BLM facility in Wyoming intensified a long-running struggle over how to handle the West’s wild horses, or mustangs, descendants of horses Spanish settlers introduced, as hotter, drier conditions reduce grass and water horses need to survive in the wild.
The wild horse and burro population across 10 states has more than doubled over the past decade to 82,384, according to BLM data from aerial surveys. That’s triple the agency’s target of 26,715 that BLM officials say the land can sustain. In Colorado, the population hovers around 1,689, more than twice land managers’ target of 827.
“A broken system”
For the past two years, BLM teams have been gathering and removing more horses. They’re preparing to capture 22,000 mustangs this summer — including a herd in Colorado near Meeker — and place them into their network of 28 holding facilities, including the one at Cañon City. More than 60,000 mustangs now are held in captivity nationwide, up from 50,935 a decade ago, data show. The overall cost to taxpayers of managing wild horses has increased from $71 million a year in 2013 to $137 million this year.
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