Bureau of Land Management officials said roundups also are planned in Arizona, California, Montana, Utah and Wyoming through the winter to protect rangelands and wildlife habitat from the impact of overpopulated horse herds.
At the same time, officials announced they would apply a fertility-control vaccine to hundreds of mares and adjust sex ratios in some herds to favor males in an effort to reduce the number of on-the-range pregnancies.
Plans also call for the removal of more than 2,000 mustangs in Wyoming, which has more wild horses than any other state except Nevada. Nevada has roughly half of the 33,000 wild horses that freely roam 10 Western states.
Elsewhere, similar roundups will target only about 40 horses in Utah and 30 in Montana. About 400 wild burros will be removed from the range in Arizona.
Activists sharply criticized Friday’s announcement by the agency, saying the ongoing mass removal of wild horses from public lands will result in the stockpiling of thousands of more horses in holding facilities at taxpayer expense.
There now are roughly 40,000 horses in short- and long-term holding facilities in the West and Midwest. Over the 2010 fiscal year, holding costs accounted for $36.9 million, or 57 percent, of the BLM wild horse and burro program’s $63.9 million budget.
Activists accuse the BLM of removing the animals to appease ranchers, whose cattle compete for forage with horses.
“The BLM is misleading Congress and the public when it claims that it is reforming, because the agency continues to clear the land of mustangs to make room for commercial livestock grazing,” said Suzanne Roy of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, a coalition of environmental, public interest and animal rights organizations.
“This mismanaged federal program is bankrupting American taxpayers and devastating our remaining wild horse herds,” she added.
But BLM officials said advocacy groups’ calls for a moratorium on all BLM gathers are unrealistic because horse herds grow at an average rate of 20 percent a year and can double in size every four years. Public rangelands are not able to withstand the impacts from overpopulated herds, which include soil erosion, sedimentation of streams, and damage to wildlife habitat, they added.
Officials maintain the estimated herd population exceeds by nearly 12,000 the number that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. The agency has determined the appropriate management level is some 26,600.
Over the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the agency removed more than 8,400 wild horses and burros from the range in the West, with the vast majority being horses.