Federal officials this week began herding wild horses using helicopters in northwestern Colorado, according to the Associated Press, which reports the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) intends to round up 140 horses over the next several days.
Several groups, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, reportedly filed a lawsuit last week to stop the roundup of horses that have strayed off federal lands where they are allowed to roam. But a BLM spokesman said the agency is not rounding up 60 or so wild horses in the North Piceance area, which was of particular concern to the ASPCA. Still, the animal-rights group wants the roundup halted.
Wild horses are a symbol of freedom in the American West that can be traced back to the Spanish conquistadors, but the BLM has been saddled with the mounting costs of maintaining the herd since the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
The Government Accountability Office in 2008 estimated the number of horses in BLM captivity was more than 30,000, with another 33,000 running wild on federal land. It put the annual cost of maintaining the captive and wild herds at nearly $40 million.
U.S. Interior Secretary and former Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar last year recommended setting up preserves for the animals at a cost of $100 million, which he said would ultimately save the taxpayers money on the annual costs of maintaining the program.