By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Bureau of Land Management review of its Wheatland wild horse facility found several policy violations and at least one national animal rights group is outraged.
A Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program (CAWP) report by the BLM was issued this week and found that while the Wheatland facility was meeting most of the bureau’s standards, there were some things at the facility that were considered “non-compliant.”
“While 83% is noted to be within the “compliant” range, the BLM sees the recent Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program assessment as an opportunity to improve,” BLM spokesman Tyson Finnicum told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.
“The Wheatland Off-Range Corral is one of the newest BLM wild horse and burro facilities and having some areas to work on was expected. However, our goal is to see the facility meet and eventually exceed the standards set by the CAWP. ”
These issues included not having enough staff to complete all of the work at the facility in a timely manner, lacking a sufficient number of pens to sort wild horses and burros, no shade, shelter or wind breaks in many of the pens and the horses not being provided with enough quality hay to achieve and maintain an acceptable body condition.
Finnicum said work is being done to rectify some of these issues and the BLM is actively working with a contractor to improve and add to the facility.
“We currently have several ‘sick’ pens used to isolate and care for sick or special needs animals,” he said. “These pens were found to be inadequate, and a plan is already underway to build new and improved ‘sick’ pens. At no time have we run out of space for sick or special needs animals.”
No animals are going without food, water or care, despite staff shortages, Finnicum said.
He added that many of the horses who were considered to have a poor body condition at the facility had been in poor health when they were rounded up, but noted their conditions were improving.
The American Wild Horse Campaign, a national organization advocating for the welfare of wild horses, was outraged at the violations found in the report, spokeswoman Amelia Perrin told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
“[This] review of the Wheatland corral revealed concerning violations, especially in light of the recent mass strangles outbreak at the facility that has so far claimed the lives of at least 13 wild horses,” Perrin said. “Wheatland is one of eight facilities assessed so far and all have highlighted deficiencies that call into question the capacity of the BLM to hold and care for these horses and burros once they are removed from public lands.”
“The reports indicate a building crisis in holding facilities and provide emergency justification for the BLM to pause roundups and refocus resources to manage wild horses where they are safest: in the wild,” she continued.
The wild horse group wants to end wild horse round-ups, both in Wyoming and across the nation. In May, it called for a halt to the program until a deadly outbreak of equine flu, which killed more than 100 horses, at a facility in Colorado could be investigated.
Overall, the CAWP report found the Wheatland facility to be 83% compliant.
One aspect of the BLM’s animal welfare program is to implement internal and external assessments for all activities undertaken in the wild horse and burro program.
The Wheatland facility has been closed to the public for more than two months due to an outbreak of a contagious equine disease known as “strangles.” Thirteen horses at the corral have died from the disease.
Last month, it was reported that more than half of the 2,750 horses being housed at the corral have shown signs of the disease.
The mortality rate of strangles is typically under 10% but can be as high as 40%. About 0.8% of the horses affected by strangles at the Wheatland facility have died.
BLM Wyoming manages 16 wild horse herd management areas on nearly 5 million acres.