In The Colorado Sun’s Aug. 3 story, Jennifer Brown reports how the state’s largest wild horse roundup in history ended Aug. 1 with 864 captured animals, bringing the number of wild horses captured in the past year to about 2,000.
The Bureau of Land Management helicopter roundup took place in the Piceance Basin and included taking 163 foals from their rangeland home. It came on the heels of a calamitous outbreak of equine influenza — a common and easily preventable infectious disease — at the Cañon City corrals that claimed the lives of nearly 150 horses earlier this year.
In justifying the helicopter roundups, the BLM claims it conducts all wild horse and burro management according to a Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program. The program includes everything from restrictions on how helicopter contractors pursue the animals to the conditions in the holding facilities.
Sadly, as has become brutally clear with each roundup, the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program is little more than window dressing meant to convince the taxpayers that our wild equines are treated with kindness and respect.
We saw the failure of the BLM’s animal welfare guidelines on July 29, when the helicopter contractor, Cattoor Livestock Roundups, Inc., chased a family of terrified Piceance mustangs into a hidden barbed-wire fence. Photos published in The Colorado Sun Story, which were taken by public observers, show a mare somersaulting through the air and landing on her back as she hit the wire.
The incident was similar to a roundup in the Antelope Complex of northern Nevada a year ago, when the BLM used barbed-wire fencing along the wings of its trap. The Cattoor chopper chased horses directly into the fence, causing horses to crash and thrash about violently in the wire.
The Cattoor family is the BLM’s favorite choice for wild horse and burro roundups, and — despite the high marks the BLM typically gives to the roundups it pays for — has a long list of observed and reported animal welfare program violations. These include foals left behind, foals pushed to the point of their legs breaking, horses knocked down with the skids of the chopper, and horses relentlessly chased for hours on end with no rest, including pregnant mares and foals too young to keep up with their families.
The Cattoors have been documented beating and poking captured burros, and keeping mares and foals separated for too long, posing a serious threat to the health of the foals. In my own experience of many years, public observers have reported to me they have been bullied and harassed by the Cattoors at the operations.
Over the years the Cattoors have earned tens of millions of our tax dollars chasing our wild horse and burros with their helicopters. The patriarch of the Cattoor family, Dave Cattoor, pled guilty and was convicted in 1992 of using his aircraft to hunt federally protected wild horses to be sold for slaughter.
And while the BLM publicly takes a stance against sending horses and burros to slaughter, the Cattoor website calls for captured wild horses to be “processed.”
Despite these alarming facts, the BLM continues to award the Cattoors million-dollar contracts for roundups, and the Cattoor choppers can now be seen chasing our protected wild equines in multiple roundups at the same time.
The BLM goes to great lengths to obscure and impede public observations of the roundups. Just as troubling, the agency closely restricts public access to its holding corrals, where rampant overcrowding, filth, overall neglect, and the stress of captivity lead to the kind of mass deaths we saw at Cañon City. I have reviewed every roundup report since July 2021, and they show that the BLM has killed hundreds of captured horses for minor maladies, including being thin, being over 20 years old, or being blind in one eye.
The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program is the BLM’s own voluntary set of discretionary guidelines. Nothing in the law requires the agency to actually abide by those guidelines. And history tells us the BLM will not do the right thing unless it is forced.
The long and growing list of horrific stories of dead foals, horses bloodied and wounded, and mass die-offs in holding corrals will only continue to grow unless Congress acts. At the very least, the animal welfare program must be turned into mandatory policy; better yet, Congress must pass top-to-bottom reform of all aspects of the BLM’s wild horse and burro program for the sake of the animals, our public lands, and the American taxpayers.
Scott Beckstead, of Sutherlin, Ore., is director of campaigns for Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., which has a new state council in Colorado.