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Health, Science & Environment

Conflict Over Mustangs in Southern Utah

Jaime Jackson / Wikimedia Commons
Wild horses on public rangeland in Utah

  Governor Gary Herbert says the state might be able to do a better job of managing wild horses on Utah’s public rangeland than federal authorities do.  And both wild horse advocates and local officials in southern Utah say the Bureau of Land Management needs to be doing more.

There are differing estimates of the number of mustangs living on public rangeland in southwestern Utah.  Local officials say there might be as many as 2000 in an area that can only sustain only about half that.

At his monthly news conference at KUED last week, Governor Herbert told reporters that managing wild horses is one area where the BLM should let the state take responsibility.  And he mentioned euthanasia as one strategy for reducing the number of mustangs in Iron County.

“We euthanize cats and dogs, y’know," Herbert said following the taping of his news conference.  "We have to have a better and more aggressive spay and neuter program.  There’s probably things we can do, but we would do it very aggressively because it’s impacting our people here.”

Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller says local ranchers have had their grazing allocations cut in half to maintain an overpopulation of mustangs.

Miller told KUER, “The reason why they’re asking them to cut is because they’re not willing, the B-L-M’s not willing to manage the wild horse down to the levels they’re supposed to.  And that’s completely unacceptable.”

The BLM has begun environmental assessments on a plan to round up about a thousand horses.  But Miller says ranchers and county government will be prepared to take action on their own to remove horses from the range if the B-L-M isn’t rounding them up by the end of the foaling season in July.

Paula Todd King with the Cloud Foundation says that would be a clear violation of federal law, and her group would go to court to stop it.  And she says cattle and sheep have a far greater impact on public land.

“Certainly, wild horse advocates don’t want to see rangeland degraded," King said in an interview with KUER, "because it’s out there for all of the wildlife.  But when cattle outnumber horses 50 to 1 on most of our public lands, there’s an issue when they’re saying, ‘Oh, the wild horses are running rampant out here.’”

King says birth control for horses and allowing predators to roam free would do a much better job of controlling their population than constant roundups.

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