Gov. Polis calls on BLM to stop Sand Wash Basin wild horse roundup set to start Wednesday

There was no indication the Bureau of Land Management would stop the gather before it’s set to start Wednesday

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:47 p.m. to include a statement from BLM Colorado.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has called on the Bureau of Land Management to halt plans to round up as many as 80% of the wild horses in the Sand Wash Basin, which is set to start Wednesday.

In a letter Monday to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and BLM Deputy Director of Policy and Programs Nada Wolff Culver, Polis said he is “extremely concerned” at the pace and the sheer number of horses that are planned to be removed.

“I have received an outpouring of letters and phone calls from Coloradans across the state, deeply concerned by the suddenness and scale of these roundups,” Polis said in the letter. “There remain legitimate concerns about the fate of gathered horses, and I believe that better collaboration with the state and advocates could improve assurances about their long-term well-being and the avoidance of any slaughter.”

In the letter, Polis proposes the BLM immediately institute a six-month moratorium on roundups, allowing for better stakeholder engagement in the process, which he said has been lacking.

“I remain extremely concerned with the historic scale and condensed time period of the BLM’s proposed roundup at Sand Wash Basin,” Polis wrote. “I believe that, through Colorado’s unique position as a state with a long history of innovation and care for our public lands and wildlife, we can work more collaboratively with the BLM to effectuate more scientific and humane outcomes to herd management.”

The BLM’s Little Snake Field Office in Craig announced it would start a wild horse gather in the Sand Wash Basin on Wednesday that would seek to remove as many as 733 of the estimated 893 horses that roam there. The BLM has deemed the Appropriate Management Level for the Sand Wash Basin to be between 163 and 362 horses.

BLM officials say that drought and over population in the basin have forced their hand, requiring the emergency roundup. Horse advocates disagree. They point to water in the basin right now and horses that look to be of a healthy weight.

“The late rains didn’t allow the grasses to grow. Even though it is starting to green up a little bit now, that doesn’t mean there’s enough out there to sustain them through the winter,” said Chris Maestas, public information officer for the BLM’s Little Snake Office in an interview Monday.

Tuesday, Maestas referred questions about the governor’s request to the state BLM office.

“We appreciate the input from the state of Colorado to find creative ways to manage healthy wild horses on healthy public lands,” said Steven Hall, communications director for BLM Colorado.

An email to the Department of the Interior did not receive a response.

Maestas said he was not aware of any plans to stop the horse roundup, and he was out preparing for the gather at the Sand Wash Basin on Tuesday.

Horse advocates like the Colorado Chapter of the Sierra Club have also called on the BLM to stop the emergency roundup, saying that it is livestock that are depleting the forage in the area and not the horses.

“As documented in the BLM’s own data, livestock grazing, not wild horses, has resulted in damage to the range that is both widespread and severe,” the Sierra Club said in a statement Monday.

Polis argues that a delay in horse gathering for the time being could allow for a more inclusive process that includes members of the public, like nonprofits, which he said play a crucial role in the adoption and care of these horses. Rounding up this many horses at once threatens to strain volunteer capacity and other support communities, he said.

The governor said in the letter he would be an advocate for more funding for the Horse and Burro Program in Congress, and he felt a delay and longer planning period now could help avoid more expensive outcomes in the future.

“It is my hope that the Bureau of Land Management will instead take a six-month timeout from further rounding up our state’s wild horses until there has been better engagement with stakeholders, concerned citizens and the state,” Polis said.

The gather is planned to start Wednesday morning and last for between 14 and 25 days.

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