BLM set to remove more than 100 wild horses with West Douglas herd roundup

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An early August 2018 morning on the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area.

Updated 4:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023

A wild horse roundup set to begin Friday will remove the entire West Douglas herd in Rio Blanco County, sending them to a holding facility in Fremont County where more than 140 horses died last year.

The Bureau of Land Management announced the roundup on Monday. The range area, located about 20 miles south of Rangely, is considered inadequate for the horses due to the scarcity of resources. 

“The West Douglas Herd Area is not managed for wild horses due to limited food and water, which causes the horses to stray into private lands,” said White River Field Office Manager Bill Mills in a press release. “The removal of excess wild horses will protect the rangelands and reduce impacts to sensitive animal species and adjoining private properties.”

The West Douglas herd is the same group that was involved in a roundup in 2022, after which about 145 horses died from an outbreak of equine influenza at a holding facility near Cañon City. BLM Spokesperson Brittany Sprout said the agency is taking steps to prevent that from happening again. 

“Since the incident last year we have increased our staffing. This is the first gather that we're having since that incident where we're bringing new horses in,” Sprout said. “So we're going to try to vaccinate the horses as they come in, as they're transported to the facility.” 

The agency intends to use helicopter drive trapping to capture the estimated 122 horses remaining in the herd. The use of helicopters for such trappings has been routinely criticized by horse advocacy groups, who say it puts unnecessary stress on the animals.

Scott Wilson, Colorado spokesperson for the American Wild Horse Campaign, said in a statement that the roundup was unnecessary, and favored cattle interests.

"The claim made by the Bureau of Land Management that the area is unable to sustain any federally protected wild horses while permitting hundreds of privately owned livestock to graze in the same area, showcases a lopsided federal approach that has consistently reduced wild horse habitat since 1971," Wilson said.

The West Douglas herd is not the only wild horse herd in that area. The BLM also manages the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management area, which is approximately 190,000 acres and suitable for between 135 and 235 horses. 

Members of the public can observe portions of the gathering, though they will need to provide their own transportation to the rugged, remote site. The BLM said information on meeting times and observations can be found by calling 720-432-9689.

Horses removed from the range will be available for adoption.