Several hundred wild horses near Meeker will be sent to Utah due to overpopulation

Rick Bowmer/AP
In this June 29, 2018 photo, wild horses walk to a watering hole outside Salt Lake City.

The Bureau of Land Management will begin another round-up of wild horses near Meeker on Thursday.

According to federal wildlife officials, the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area can only manage up to 235 wild horses. Right now, the population is more than five times that number.

Overpopulation among the herd has caused malnourishment issues as food supplies run low. A BLM visual assessment of 450 horses from the herd showed nearly half of them were malnourished or in subpar health, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. 

“We saw some horses really suffering in March and April,” BLM Colorado district manager Elijah Waters said in a release. “We were getting quite a bit of feedback from the public to do something, and we felt like the best option was to gather as soon as we could for the horses in poor condition and for the horses that will remain and need forage before going into next winter.”

The round-up will happen in two phases. Wildlife officials will begin to bait horses with food and water on Thursday. Gathering operations, which utilizes horseback riders and helicopters, will start in July. The gathering was moved up by several months due to the “poor condition of the horses and range conditions coming out of the winter.”

Activists have spoken out against previous mass horse removals in Colorado, calling for federal officials to keep populations on the higher end of the manageable spectrum, and to abandon the helicopter gathering method, as it stresses out horses. 

Following the round-up, the horses will be transported to a BLM wild horse holding facility in Utah. Captured horses will either be adopted, sold, or provided long-term care in off-range pastures. A similar holding facility in Cañon City remains under quarantine after an equine influenza outbreak killed more than 140 horses earlier this year. 

The BLM is inviting the public to an information meeting about the round-up on Wednesday. 

CPR's Matt Bloom contributed to this report.