Activists condemned the government’s recent capture of nearly 350 mustangs, but for those tasked with managing a booming wild horse population in a drought-stricken West, it’s complicated.
By Natasha Daly
Published July 29, 2021
Just off the historic Pony Express Road in western Utah lies a picture-perfect vista of the American West: miles of sagebrush grasslands set against the foothills of the Onaqui Mountains. And, until early July, nearly 500 mustangs grazed and galloped through it. It’s one of the most well-known populations of free-roaming horses in the United States—a draw for tourists, photographers, and horse lovers.
On July 13, the helicopters showed up. Operated by private contractors commissioned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the low-flying helicopters drove hundreds of startled horses off the public lands and into holding pens. On a hillside nearby, activists opposed to the roundup protested and documented the event.
From July 13 to July 18, BLM rounded up 435 stallions, mares, and foals from the Onaqui Mountain Herd Management Area, one of 19 it manages in Utah. One young mare suffered a broken ankle in the frenzy and had to be euthanized. The agency gave fertility control injections to just over a hundred mares and stallions before releasing them back to the wild. The rest—about 350 horses—were sent to holding facilities, to enter permanent captivity...