Lawmakers, agency look for ways to safely round up 82,000 wild horses spread across 10 states

The federal government is corralling some of the 82,000 wild horses living on public lands in ten western states. This year the bureau, known as the BLM, is tasked with reducing the herd of wild horses and burros to 20,000. The Bureau uses special equipment such as helicopters to help the animals hear.

Jeff Fontana has been working with the Federal Bureau of Land Management for more than 30 years—helping care for America’s wild horses.

“Helicopters are a safe and efficient way to move a large number of animals across a landscape,” Fontana told CBS News’ Joy Benedict at the Twin Peaks Range in Lassen Couti, California.

It’s a chase that can go on for miles as the helicopter lands on a group of horses and traps them in a field.

According to Fontana, it is relatively safe for horses, although injuries do occur.

“Our track record in this program is really good, resulting in less than one percent of deaths from our collecting activities,” Fontana said.

Fontana said that horses could die through the BLM’s helicopter gathering strategy in the same way they could die off the border, due to degraded resources due to overpopulation.

Jason Lutterman works for the Wild Horse and Burrow Program which is operating 46 Roundups in the West this year. He said it is essential to keep the herds in the right shape to ensure enough food and water for all.

“Wild horses grow 15-20% annually. Told.

“Our goal is to manage healthy herds on healthy public land. And so, that’s the only way we can make sure there are enough resources for those animals to survive,” he said.

The BLM manages 26.9 million acres of land. It was established in the 1940s to oversee and protect federal lands and lease them for lucrative livestock grazing. But when wild mustangs began to hunt, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burrows Act in 1971 to protect them and the land they live on.

But using helicopters as a way to surround wild horses is controversial – some call it inhumane.

Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus has launched a formal review of what the BLM was doing after she became concerned about whether horses were being humanely rounded.

“The government’s in charge, of the BLM, is to humanely manage and there is nothing humane about what is happening,” she said.

“It wasn’t until some active groups started tracking those roundups that I realized how awesome they are. They use helicopters, they drive down horses,” Titus said.

Titus also introduced a bill to ground helicopters – which was blamed for the deaths of 25 horses last year alone. Titus believes that a more humane way would be to use cowboys.

“Save a horse and hire a shepherd. They know how to herd horses and I’m sure it’s more humane than that.” Titus said.

In the 1970s the BLM stopped using cowboys to circle the Mustangs. Fontana said it was a “really difficult situation” to move horses from horseback in the past.

The Bureau of Land Management has spent more than $450 million dollars on its wild horse and bureau program over the past 5 years. Of that total, $25 million went to raising the animals, but most of the money goes to the care of horses in captivity for long periods of time.

“Unadapted animals are cared for in long-term off-range pastures, large open meadows for these animals to roam about for the rest of their lives and yes, about 60% of our budget is spent unspent and without Sold is for the care of animals,” said Fontana.

Although horses are up for adoption, the BLM only supervises adopted horses for the first year.

Fontana said the horses have been adopted and kept for slaughter in the past, although they try to be supervised as best they can.

“It’s something we’re fully aware of and always on top of,” Fontana said.

In one morning, the BLM collected 46 horses, including 6 horses – most of the animals were sent to temporary holding facilities, except for two who were euthanized for poor health.

Some of the horses collected will receive birth control and will be released. The rest will lead a domestic life away from the range and away from the land that once made them wild and free.

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