Wyoming BLM decision removes 60 percent of wild horses

Courtesy image

Amendment admits difficulty managing public, private blocks

SOUTHWESTERN WYOMING – Citing extreme difficulties to manage the High Desert District’s wild horse herds across mile-square checkerboard blocks of private, state and federal land, while adhering to federal court orders, led to the Wyoming BLM’s May 6 release of proposed herd management amendments and a signed record of decision (ROD).

The BLM’s Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices’ proposals would realign current wild horse herd management area (HMA) boundaries in the checkerboard and remove all wild horses from portions where agency officials say they cannot otherwise ensure wild horses will not enter privately owned blocks.

“The overall goal of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program is to ensure that healthy wild horses and burros thrive on healthy public rangelands,” according to BLM. “This amendment addresses the issues and concerns raised during scoping and will resolve wild horse management conflicts within the planning area while promoting balanced multiple use goals and objectives.”

While Sublette County has no HMAs, not many wild horses and no checkerboard lands, it adjoins Lincoln and Sweetwater counties where four checkerboard HMAs (of 16 statewide) are overseen by the two BLM regional field offices.

BLM’s charges are to remove wild horses from private lands in the HMAs’ checkerboard, maintain a “thriving natural ecological balance” and protect and control populations to appropriate management levels (AMLs), the ROD says.

BLM designated southwestern wild horse HMAs when private landowners, mainly the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) in 1979, agreed with wild-horse advocates to allow up to 500 wild horses to roam across the checkerboard.

In 2010, the RSGA revoked that consent, saying the BLM was not managing numbers per agreement and called for all wild horses to be removed from its private land in the HMAs. Removing all wild horses on private lands could fall below the BLM’s set AMLs, so the BLM decided to reduce HMAs in the checkerboard to herd areas (HA), with no wild horses allowed.

The Little Colorado HMA adjacent to White Mountain HMA and other wild horse HMAs in the Rawlins Field Office do not contain any checkerboard lands and are not part of this amendment.

These revisions follow the Rawlins-Rock Springs’ 2016 final environmental impact statement for the planning area. Rock Springs field manager Kimberlee Foster and Wyoming State Director Archie Archuletta approved plan amendments in the May 8 ROD. 

Checkerboard HMAs

  • Adobe Town: RSGA owns 93 percent of the HMA’s private land. BLM Rock Springs would amend its portion to a herd area (HA) with zero wild horses. If more than 200 horses are counted, all will be removed. In the Rawlins’ portion, part reverts to HA status with no wild horses; the rest remains an HMA with an AML of 259 to 536 horses.
  • Great Divide Basin: RSGA owns 50 percent of this HMA, to be entirely amended to HA status and zero wild horses.
  • Salt Wells Creek: RSGA owns 40 percent of the private land here; the HMA would revert to HA status for zero wild horses.
  • White Mountain: RSGA owns 82 percent of the private land; the HMA boundary remains as is with an AML of 205 to 300 wild horses with population control strategies – spaying, contraceptives, gelding or other methods, according to the May 8 ROD.


The ROD reviews Wyoming BLM’s considered alternatives in the final environmental impact statement.

“No action” would keep the four HMAs as they are and develop interpretative and viewing sites with a total of 1,481 to 2,065 wild horses. “Current management of wild horses within checkerboard lands has presented significant challenges due to private land conflicts. ... Alternative A would require resolution of these private land conflicts.”

Alternative B would include checkerboard blocks, reducing White Mountain AMLs to 99 to 205 and Adobe Town to 225 to 450 animals. The four HMAs’ total would be 990 to 1,620 non-reproducing wild horses. Livestock grazing would be reduced by 6,876 animal-unit months.

Alternative C would remove all wild horses from the Rawlins-Rock Springs planning area and allocate their AUMs to livestock, wildlife “or other ecosystem functions.”

“This alternative responds, in part, to requirements of the 12013 Consent Decree (i.e. analysis of reverting the Salt Wells Creek and Great Divide Basin HMAs to HAs and managing them for zero wild horses).

The BLM wild horse ROD considered but eliminated using only public portions of the HMAs as “not technically feasible.” Allowing only livestock in the checkerboard and only wild horses in the solid public blocks was also considered impractical, as was managing only solid blocks of White Mountain and the Little Colorado HMAs.

“However, there is no existing fence or other natural barrier that would connect with such a barrier on the western side. Therefore, this alternative was determined to be infeasible.”

Land swap

No private landowner has stepped up to discuss land exchanges with the BLM, the ROD says. “BLM does not currently have a proposal from a willing party (or group of parties) to a land exchange involving checkerboard lands in the planning area. Even if a proposal existed, a land exchange would entail extensive surveys of millions of acres for mineral value, cultural resources and potential hazardous materials, which would likely take years to complete and demand extensive agency resources.”

Lawsuit filed

Wild horse and environmental advocates filed a civil suit May 10 in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court against the U.S. Department of the Interior and BLM “over a federal plan that would result in the largest-ever eradication of federally protected wild horses and elimination of 43 percent of designated wild horse habitat in the Red Desert area of Wyoming,” stated Eric Molvar, director of Western Watershed Project.

“The lawsuit is the culmination of a decade-long battle to defend the wild horses of the Wyoming Checkerboard against demands by the Rock Springs Grazing Association to remove these animals from more than 2 million acres of land in the southwestern part of the state. RSGA members graze private livestock on the public lands within the Checkerboard and wild horses are competition for cheap forage available through tax-subsidized grazing fees,” Molvar charged.