The federal government is rounding up some of the 82,000 wild horses that live on public lands in ten western states. This year, the agency, known as the BLM, is tasked with thinning the wild horse and feral horse herds to 20,000. To help hear the animals, the office uses special tools like helicopters.
Jeff Fontana has worked 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 large numbers of animals across a landscape,” Fontana told CBS News’ Joy Benedict in the Twin Peaks Range in Lassen County, California.
It’s a chase that can last for miles as the helicopter descends on a group of horses and traps them in an area.
According to Fontana, it is relatively safe for horses although injuries do occur.
“Our track record is very good in this program, fatal injuries from our operations are less than half of one percent,” Fontana said.
Horses can die through the BLM’s regular helicopter roundup, the same way they can die remotely due to degraded resources caused by overpopulation, Fontana said.
Jason Letterman works for the Wild Horse and Burro Program, which is holding 46 musters in the West this year. He said it was essential to keep herds the right size to ensure there was enough food and water for everyone.
“Wild horses are growing at 15-20% a year, if we weren’t here to manage that growth the herds will continue to grow and eventually degrade the land enough to where they run out of food and water ,” Luterman said.
“Our goal is to manage healthy herds on healthy public lands. And so, the way we can do that is to make sure there are enough resources out there for these animals to survive,” he said.
The BLM manages 26.9 million acres of land. It was established in the 1940s to oversee and maintain federal lands and lease them for profitable livestock grazing. But when wild mustangs began to be hunted, Congress passed the Free-Roaming Wild Horses and Burros Act in 1971 to protect them and the land they live on.
But using helicopters as a means of rounding up wild horses is controversial – with some calling it inhumane.
Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus launched a formal review of what the BLM is doing after she became concerned about whether the horses were being rounded up humanely.
“The responsibility of the government, the BLM, is to manage humanely, and there is nothing humane about what’s going on,” he said.
“Once some of the activist groups started attending these rallies, I realized how horrible they are. They use helicopters, they bring horses down,” Titus added.
Titus also introduced a bill to land helicopters – which were blamed for the deaths of 25 horses last year alone. Titus believes that using cowboys would be a more humane method.
“Save a horse and hire a cowboy. They know how to round up horses and I’m sure it’s more humane than that,” Titus said.
The BLM stopped using cowboys to release mustangs in the 1970s. Fontana said that in the past moving horses from horses was a “really difficult situation.”
The Bureau of Land Management has spent more than $450 million over the past 5 years on its wild horse and burro program. Of that total, $25 million went to animal collection, but most money goes to caring for horses in long-term captivity.
“Unadopted animals are cared for long-term in off-range pastures, big open pastures for these animals to roam for the rest of their lives, and yes, it costs about 60% of our budget to care for unadopted and unsold animals,” she said. . Fountain.
Although the horses are up for adoption, the BLM only tracks adopted horses for the first year.
Fontana said the horses have been adopted in the past and put up for slaughter, though they try to keep track as best they can.
“It’s something we’re very aware of and always on top of,” Fontana said.
In one morning, the BLM rounded up 46 horses, including 6 foals – most of the animals were sent to temporary holding facilities, except for two that were euthanized due to poor health.
A handful of the collected horses will be birth controlled and released. The rest will live a domestic life away from the area and away from the land that once made them wild and free.