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TOOELE — A rescue plan is in the works for hundreds of wild mustangs in Tooele County. They're facing a rough winter because drought and wildfires have ravaged their habitat.
The Bureau of Land Management decided to do an emergency capture of about 300 wild horses. Gus Warr, BLM Wild Horse and Burro specialist is concerned about the safety of the horses this winter because of the lack of food.
"Right now these horses are doing fine," Warr said. "But they're thriving off last year's grass. The big concern is this winter they could be in real trouble."
About 850 mustangs make up the two Tooele County herds. The horses haven't seen many summers like this one. And neither has Warr.
"I wouldn't say it's the worst I've seen," he said. "But it's up there. And if it wouldn't have been for the wonderful year we had last year of forage and water, we'd be really hurting right now."
This year, very little feed grew for the horses because of the extreme dry weather and heat. Mostly, the mustangs are seeing vast fields of invasive cheatgrass which thrives during a drought.
You know, I've seen animals that have died from starvation and dehydration. It's the worst thing I've ever experienced. And so we're going to insure that these animals survive next year and for many years to come.
–Gus Warr, BLM wild horse and burro specialist
"[The cheatgrass] has no nutrional value to the animals right now, versus the Perennial grass species that the horses are selecting right now," Warr said.
Along with the lack of nutritious feed for the horses, wildfires have greatly diminished the forage normally consumed during the winter.
Natural water sources have also dried up, but the horses are dehydrated. They receive water from pipelines that ranchers installed for their own livestock.
BLM experts believe there won't be enough food to get so many horses through the winter. In the two planned emergency gathers, they are hoping to capture 300 of the 850 mustangs.
The BLM contends that they have a responsibility to keep the wild mustangs healthy and to put them up for adoption when there are too many on the range.
"You know, I've seen animals that have died from starvation and dehydration," Warr said. "It's the worst thing I've ever experienced. And so we're going to insure that these animals survive next year and for many years to come."