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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Documentary photographers set up behind a camoflage cloth about 35 miles southwest of Milford Monday July 28 to observe the The BLM rounding up wild horses in Blawn Wash a remote area of basin and range that straddles Beaver and Iron counties. The BLM plans to remove up to 140 horses from the area, mostly by helicopter herding.
Utah wild horse roundup off to good start
Mustangs » In its only roundup, BLM is pulling 140 horses from state lands; county commissioners, ranchers say far more need to go.
First Published Jul 29 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jul 29 2014 12:46 pm

Wah Wah Mountains • It’s easy to forget the depth of disagreement over wild horse management in the West on a day like Monday.

The weather was warm but not hot, with no wind and no rain as the Bureau of Land Management began its only Utah wild horse roundup of the year, the Blawn Wash gather to remove 140 horses from where no one wants them: state land.

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Visitors are welcome to watch the Bureau of Land Management roundups underway this week at Blawn Wash, but they need to be in Milford at 5 a.m. Details are available at the BLM’s Blawn Wash gather website, http://blm.gov/4yld. The roundups will continue through the week and possibly into next week, until 140 horses are removed.

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No horses were injured and not one of the 20 spectators watching from a hill above the corral threw a punch.

"It’s going great," said Gus Warr, the Utah BLM’s wild horse and burro manager who played host to the spectators as 45 horses were herded by helicopter into a corral and taken off the range in trucks. The horses came out of the Wah Wahs’ juniper-covered hills and washes in four groups, over several hours.

"The weather is cooperating. The horses are cooperating," Warr said.

He could have said the same for rancher Mark Wintch, whose fifth-generation ranch in the Wah Wah Valley could be seen in the distance, and Ellie Price, the founder of Montgomery Creek Preserve for wild horses north of Sacramento and an advocate with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC).

The two are on opposite sides of the debate over which animals should have priority on the public range, and they spent considerable time Monday discussing their points of view with Warr and each other.

Ranchers and county commissioners in southern Utah have been demanding the BLM remove far more horses; Wintch is part of a rancher group suing the BLM. Wild horse advocates have been pressing for reduced livestock numbers and for BLM to make greater use of birth control to manage horse herds.

The agency concedes it has twice as many wild horses, 3,979 in Utah as of March, as its own target levels allow. But the agency is running out of long-term pastures for the horses it cannot adopt out. It’s the same story in the nine other states with wild horses.

Wintch, who brought three of his children to Monday’s roundup, said he’ll have to spend $200,000 or $300,000 next winter to buy hay to replace the pasture alfalfa his cows and calves are eating now. They should be grazing on School and Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA) he leases in Blawn Wash, but drought and horses have taken that feed, he said.

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Wintch and Warr told Price and Caroline Kraus, also with the AWHPC from California, that wild horses thrive on Utah’s southwest desert in part because of the water features — pipes, ponds and tanks — that ranchers build and maintain.

"We don’t want ‘em all gone either," Wintch told Price. "We’re just asking for proper control." Livestock numbers are far lower than in decades past, he said.

Price argued that the federal government needs a public lands plan that is fairer to the horses, especially because the American public favors wild horses over livestock.

"How can you blame the horses [for range degradation] when there are eight to 10 times more private livestock?" she asked.

Kraus said it may be that ranchers’ water keeps horse herds growing. "But are we creating an environment that invites them and then blaming them for coming?"

As horses streamed into the corral, Kraus watched through a long camera lens and was circumspect.

"You’re looking at horses that have completely lost their freedom," she said.

Kelly Jay of Tooele, who frequently photographs the Onaqui wild horse herd near Dugway, said it broke her heart Monday to see horse bands broken up.

"People say they’re just dumb horses, but they’re family units. They actually love each other," Jay said.

Linda and Mike Sandston of Leeds were surprised by the condition of the horses, given the scarce grass on the desert.

"I didn’t expect them to be as beautiful and healthy," Linda Sandston said.

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