WASHINGTON — An advocacy group for wild horses is seeking an emergency halt of roundups on public lands following recent assessments of understaffing and animal welfare risks at federal corrals and holding centers in Nevada and other Western states.
Findings in the Bureau of Land Management assessment of a Colorado corral found staff shortages contributed to the death of 145 wild horses that perished when illnesses spread through the facility in May.
Staff shortages and other deficiencies were found at other federal facilities where wild horses are kept after being captured, BLM assessment reports show.
“The internal assessments show widespread problems that are creating an animal welfare crisis at these taxpayer-funded holding facilities where 60,000 wild horses and burros are confined,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.
Roy called for a pause in roundups due to deaths of horses at facilities in Colorado and Wyoming.
The BLM conducted internal assessments at eight of its 28 holding facilities, including the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, the Palomino Valley Center in Reno and the Indian Lakes corral in Fallon.
Internal assessments conducted at the Nevada corrals in March were prior to the May deaths of 145 horses at a holding facility in Canon City, Colorado, believed to be the result of illnesses that included equine influenza.
At the Colorado facility, BLM found that staffing shortages in vaccination programs contributed to the spread of illness.
“This facility is understaffed in multiple capacities,” the BLM assessment report concluded.
Lawmakers call for end to roundups
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, has called on the U.S. Department of Interior to halt roundups of wild horses and burros as federal and state agencies investigate the wild horse deaths.
Horses that remain corralled in Canon City are quarantined.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., in a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on May 5, urged a stop to roundups of wild horses on public lands until a complete investigation can be conducted and steps are taken to prevent future deaths.
The lawmakers are members of the bipartisan Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.
Titus also called for an investigation into a wild horse roundup in Central Nevada this year when video footage showed a foal break a leg while running from a helicopter. The video prompted a public outcry.
As many as a dozen horses died in that February roundup near Ely. The Bureau of Land Management removed about 2,000 mustangs due to overpopulation and public land degradation threatening native plants and animals.
Meanwhile, understaffing was found at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, according to a bureau report. Some fencing and holding facility gates were inadequate. The facility lacked shade and shelter for some horses, along with erosion issues that could prevent foals from reaching water sources.
Access to hay and inadequate fencing were reported at the Palomino Valley Center. Similar issues were found at Indian Lakes, along with non-compliance with BLM vaccination policy and record keeping, reports noted.
Overall, the three Nevada corrals were given compliance marks of more than 86 percent, according to BLM reports, with recommendations to bring them up to 100 percent.
Staffing appeared to be the major drawback of nearly all of the eight facilities reviewed in Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming.
Delays in vaccinations and lax record keeping were frequently noted in reports of the eight facilities assessed.
In addition to Canon City, an outbreak of a virus led to the death of horses held at the Wheatland, Wyoming, facility in March.
The call by federal, state and advocates to halt roundups comes after the deaths and after BLM announced this year that it planned to remove 22,000 wild horses and burros from public lands as herds continue to grow without natural predators and threaten ecosystems due to overgrazing.
A BLM spokesman said no roundups are currently planned in Southern Nevada.
The American Wild Horse Campaign, as well as lawmakers led by Titus and Cohen, want federal agencies to implement birth control measures to reduce the need for the helicopter roundups.