Government rounds up wild horses in Tooele County

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Northern Utah's biggest wild horse roundup in nearly a decade is underway in Tooele County. It comes at a time of increasing controversy over tens of thousands of wild horses being kept in federal corrals.

Wild horses tend to stir people up, especially when there's talk of euthanasia. But there are positive moves afoot, too, aimed at protecting them.

Their solitude on the range is interrupted by helicopters; the mustangs raced for miles across the desert only to be outfoxed. The choppers chased them into a funnel of fences and gates where they had no way out.

This herd has mushroomed in size. The federal government hopes to capture 570 this week. About 130 mares will be given contraceptives and returned to the range under a new intensive population-control effort.

"The horses that we're caring for in long-term holding are about $500 a horse a year. You can do contraception for a lot less than that," explained Holly Hazard, with the Humane Society of the United States.

The problem is there are now more than 30,000 of them in federal custody, and some experts have called for mass euthanasia.

"We're not moving in that direction right now. It's still an option that's on the table," said Gus Warr, with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Many critics believe the horses should just be left alone and free. "On the range, they only reproduce at 10 percent when left alone. The ecosystem takes care of itself. Nature takes care of nature," said Sonya Richins, producer-director of "Mestango."

But federal protection laws require action when overpopulation or drought threatens the horses. "We have to manage the animals so we don't have mass die-offs, or horses dying from starvation," Warr said.

Lately, a radical new idea is causing excitement. Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, proposed to buy a million acres as a sanctuary for all 30,000 horses currently in holding pens.

"That's a great opportunity that we're looking at very favorably," Warr said.

According to the BLM, Pickens has been looking for her million acres in Nevada. But some wonder if she can find a patch of desert that would support 30,000 horses. A better bet might be the East or Midwest where nature provides more for horses to eat.


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John Hollenhorst


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