Wild horse roundup in Wyoming causes controversy
April 23, 2014
The roundup and sale of 41 horses on public land in Wyoming is causing quite a stir.
A press release about the roundup and sale, issued by The Cloud Foundation, has made the rounds of social media and has prompted a wide range of responses. The Cloud Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to the protection of wild horses on public lands, according to their website.
The press release reads, "On March 24, The Cloud Foundation received an anonymous tip that BLM had rounded up and removed 41 free-roaming horses from public lands in northern Wyoming. Further investigation revealed that BLM conducted a helicopter roundup of the horses and turned them over to the Wyoming Livestock Board who sold the horses directly to the Canadian Bouvry Slaughterhouse. The taxpayer-funded roundup was conducted with no notice of sale after the horses were impounded, giving no one the opportunity to step in and negotiate a deal to purchase any of the horses."
According to Wyoming BLM public affairs specialist, Cindy Wertz, the horses they rounded up were the offspring of abandoned rodeo stock. "The original owner admitted ownership, but was unable to catch them," she said. "We have a history of trespass issues with this owner and these horses going back to the 1980s. The owner passed away several years ago, so they've gone unclaimed."
The BLM decided to take action to remove the horses after receiving an increasing number of complaints. "Adjacent landowners said the herd impacted their private irrigated fields and threatened their livestock," Wertz said. "They were increasingly becoming a nuisance, a safety issue and a rangeland health issue."
According to the The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burrows Act of 1971, "It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands." The act further stipulates that "wild free-roaming horses and burros" means all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States."
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The Cloud Foundation says this verbiage indicates the act would apply to the horses in this case, which were all unbranded. According to Wertz, the horses were not introduced to public property until the 1980s, and were verified to have been privately owned. "If a horse is on private land, it doesn't have to be branded. The BLM knew whose horses these were because the owner said they were his horses," Wertz said. "There are many unbranded horses in Wyoming. In fact, most people don't brand their horses," said Lee Romsa, brand commissioner for the Wyoming Livestock Board,
The BLM sent notices of intent to impound the horses to newspapers in Graybull, Lovell, Cody and Powell newspapers the week of Feb. 18. They also posted notices in local post offices and contacted adjacent landowners and livestock operators. "We treated this like any other trespass case, like if it had been cattle or sheep to trespass on public lands," Wertz said.
Romsa said the WLB received a notice of intent from the BLM to impound unauthorized livestock on March 5. The BLM also applied for a permit to gather unclaimed horses. "It is a law that anyone who wants to gather unclaimed horses in the state of Wyoming has to have a permit," he said. "These were trespass horses that had been abandoned on the BLM and were not a part of herd management area."
The horses were gathered by a contractor, Cattoor Livestock Roundup, Inc., on March 17 and 18. The roundup cost $28,500 and was paid for out of the BLM budget. The roundup was conducted in March because of the availability of the contractor, said Wertz. Four of the mares had young colts when they were gathered. Wertz said typically the foaling period is later, though the mares have been known to foal at nearly any time of year.
Once the horses were rounded up, the BLM turned them over to the district brand supervisor, who arranged for transportation to the livestock market in Worland, Wyo. The brand inspector established there were no ownership markings on the horses. "Our determination was they were estray livestock under state statute," Lee said. "That statute says that estray livestock are to be 'disposed of,' which, in this case, meant sold. They were put up for auction on March 19. Three people put in bids at the Worland Livestock Market, and they went to the highest bidder, which was Bouvry Exports. My understanding is that the owners of Worland Livestock Market ended up buying four colts and sold them at a later date."
The money received from the sale is held in escrow for a year, in case someone claims or proves ownership, Lee said.
In the press release, The Cloud Foundation said, "…once the brand inspection was completed, 37 horses were loaded onto a truck paid for by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and hauled to the Canadian border."
Doug Miyamoto, interim director of the WLB, said once the new owners claimed ownership at the Worland auction, they were no longer under the jurisdiction of the WLB. "There was no money from the state of Wyoming for the transport of those horses." ❖