I-Team: Nearly 80 Wild Horses Dead After Roundup - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Photojournalist Matt Adams

I-Team: Nearly 80 Wild Horses Dead After Roundup

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LAS VEGAS -- The Calico Hills wild horse roundup has been characterized by the Bureau of Land Management as a huge success. But wild horse advocates say it was a disaster, and one that grows worse every day.

The roundup ended months ago, but the horses are still paying the price -- many with their lives -- according to animal activists.

The case for the Calico wild horse roundup continues to deteriorate months after the government spent nearly $2 million to capture every mustang it could find in the rugged and remote terrain adjacent to Nevada's Black Rock Desert. 

From the beginning, the BLM claimed the gather was for the good of the horses and the good of the range, but it doesn't appear either of those justifications were on the up and up. 

First, there weren't nearly as many mustangs on the range as BLM predicted. The roundup of about 1,900 mustangs fell short of the target by about 700. Second, the vast majority of the horses gathered were in good shape -- not starving or emaciated. 

BLM manager Gene Seidlitz said his agency was trying to avert a disaster down the road when food might be more scarce. As it turned out, the roundup itself was a disaster for the herds.

Horse advocates tried to stop the operation by arguing in court that chasing horses across miles of rocky terrain in the dead of winter was dangerous. BLM replied that it was safer than normal since snow on the rocks would cushion the damage to hoofs.

As of April 15, 2010, a total of 79 of the horses captured from Calico have died -- some as a result of injuries suffered during the capture, such as a foal which literally ran its hoofs off. The rest because they could not adjust to eating the rich hay fed to them at a new holding facility in Fallon. In addition, at least 40 mares suffered miscarriages during or after the roundup. 

The total number of horses that have died is more than four times what BLM projected, ranking as one of the deadliest operations in the history of the program.

"That's unfortunate, but the percentage that died due to the gather itself is still a low percentage," said Seidlitz.

Wild horse advocates don't see it that way. They are outraged over the deaths, even more so now that an outbreak of a disease known as pigeon fever has been noticed among the horses penned up in Fallon.

Another recent development puts the Calico roundup in a different light. Horse advocates were suspicious of the reasons for the roundup, as if 2,000 horses could not live on half a million acres. The suspicions were heightened when BLM memos showed the horses were not having a major impact on the range just a year before the gather was approved, which is when BLM quadrupled the amount of cattle grazing allowed on the same range. 

A massive pipeline project, the Ruby Pipeline slated for the same range, was suspected as a possible reason for the roundup. On its website, BLM states categorically that the pipeline has nothing to do with the horses. Now horse advocates have obtained documents from February 2009 which show pipeline backers intended to work with BLM to "minimize wild horses and burros along the pipeline right of way," adding that BLM horse experts were consulted about this plan.

Two weeks ago, a Washington D.C. law firm filed a suit in federal court on behalf of the group In Defense of Animal, asking that the remaining 1,800 horses being held in Fallon be returned to the open range on the grounds that warehousing the mustangs for the rest of their lives is not only costly, but illegal. We will keep you updated as that suit works its way through the courts.

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