Up Close and Personal at Nevada's Wild Horse Roundup

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A large wild horse roundup continues in northwestern Nevada after a lawsuit delayed the effort for nearly a month. About 2,500 wild horses will be removed by the Bureau of Land Management from the range near Gerlach. The reason? According to the BLM, there's just not enough forage to keep the horses alive.

But, some are looking to stop it altogether claiming the roundup is cruel and inhumane. Critics are also questioning the BLM's methods.

How does it work? The BLM takes a helicopter to a designated area. Then, several miles away from that takeoff site, the BLM finds the mustangs and herds the bands in the same direction. The mustangs are joined by a domestic horse trained to run a certain path, leading the wild horses into a trap.

The process will be done over and over again during the next few months. BLM State Program Lead Alan Shepherd says it's necessary. "We're between three and five times appropriate management levels so we have an awful lot of horses over the numbers that we want to manage for."

On the actual roundup site in Winnemucca, Shepherd also points out the horses who are struggling to find food. He explains that they are actually kind of thinner than they look, because winter coats cover boney frames.

But Craig Downer, who sued to try to stop the roundup says special interests are at work. "They're claiming things that aren't true like they're emaciated or starving or they're destroying the habitat when in fact the ones that are destroying the habitat are the ranchers."

Last week, media and wildlife advocates were invited to observe the roundups and see exactly how the horses react to being corralled. At first glance we found out that usually, horses don't get hurt. But the BLM acknowledges during the gathering process some horses are injured. However, they say that is the exception and happens to one percent or less of the horses.

Downer says the helicopter roundup to the corral seemed to be well handled but once they got in the corrals there was some real problems. He showed KOLO 8 News Now pictures of a black stallion he says leaped to escape captivity, becoming entangled in barbed wire.
While he says horses are traumatized by the roundups, he's not opposed to taking some horses from the range... But says BLM's plan to remove 2,500 is far excessive.

The organization says it's the horse population that's excessive and without helicopter roundups, the horses face death.

"We feel it's a very effective humane part of catching horses compared to what other things could happen, lack of water, dehydration those things are far worse than ever getting caught by a helicopter," explains Shepherd.

While the Bureau of Land Management's roundup continues, litigation to stop it is moving forward too. Meanwhile, the horses gathered are taken to a holding facilities and in a total of about 8 weeks the mustangs are put up for adoption.