CODY - After a one-day delay due to muddy conditions, workers with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Friday began gathering the first of a planned total of about 200 wild horses from the McCullough Peaks area.
The work is expected to wrap up today or Sunday. It's one of several wild-horse gathers taking place across the West in recent weeks as the agency seeks to cull herds to prevent overgrazing in fragile desert landscapes.
The roundup in Park and Big Horn counties had been scheduled to start Thursday, "but it was still pretty muddy, and it's just not good for the horses, to have them running through that mud," said Sarah Beckwith, a BLM spokeswoman.
Beckwith said the management plan for the estimated 220-horse McCullough Peaks herd calls for removing about 115 of the animals, which will be taken to Rock Springs for auction. About 85 of the 200 horses gathered will be returned to the range.
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Some of the mares that are gathered will be given a birth control treatment before being released in an effort to slow the herd's population growth, she said.
Some wild horse advocates across the region have called on the BLM to reduce the number of horses culled.
They contend that grazing areas are in better shape than the agency has estimated and that reducing herd numbers imperils the future of the horses' unique bloodlines, which include ancestors brought here centuries ago by Spanish explorers.
Marshall Dominick, president of Cody-based Friends of a Legacy, was monitoring Friday's roundup, and other observers were assisting with data entry, Beckwith said.
Dominick said the McCullough Peaks range is in better condition than in recent years.
"Most of the operable reservoirs within the (herd management area) still hold water, the wild horses are in good physical condition and the horse market is very poor at this time, making it very difficult to sell horses through the BLM's adoption program," Dominick said.
Warren Murphy, an FOAL board member, said that many horses, particularly older ones sent to the Rock Springs holding facility, are unlikely to ever be adopted, and he encouraged the agency to remove fewer horses and focus adoptions on younger animals.
"Many of these horses who are not adopted are simply left to languish there at taxpayer expense," Murphy said.
Beckwith said that while a recent roundup of the Pryor Mountain horse herd drew greater public interest and generated more coverage from the news media, many Park County residents have shown great concern for the McCullough Peaks herd.
"Local folks in Cody and Powell love these horses," she said.
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