A select group of Idaho media members were given an opportunity last Thursday to watch the federal government play God-or at least to help clean up His holy mess. In the aftermath of the lightning-started, nearly 250,000-acre Clover fire in the south-central Idaho rangelands, approximately 350 wild horses living south of Glenns Ferry were left with little vegetation on which to graze. In response, the Bureau of Land Management quickly organized an emergency roundup of the entire equine community, from the most grizzled stud to the freshest filly, until the rangeland could be reseeded to handle what will soon be a drastically smaller herd.
Only about 600 of the 37,000 wild horses in the United States live in Idaho, with the herds in the fire-ravaged Saylor Creek herd management area comprising a little more than half. BLM rangeland management specialist Mike Courtney said the government stages roundups every year or two to keep them at that level. The excess horses usually go into wild horse adoption programs or to federally funded permanent holding pastures-or, in small numbers, into the stomachs of the equine's only natural predator, the French gastronome. A statute railroaded through Congress last year by Montana Sen. Conrad Burns ensured-despite great opposition-that wild horses can still be sold for slaughter.
Courtney would not comment on whether any of the horses rounded up last week would see such a delectable fate. (Reportedly, when wrapped in bacon and lightly grilled, horsemeat does a passable filet mignon impression). But given that only 112 of the 350 horses-less than a third-will return to their home range after it is reseeded, and since wild horse populations are capable of doubling every five years without the threats of hunting seasons or predation, it is clear that rangeland specialists are put in a position of stewardship with horses that is rather unique among wild species-especially when the horses run out of food.
"We don't expect it to hold them for winter, so we're removing them today," Courtney said. "I don't believe there is another option at this point."
To learn about wild horse and burro adoption, visit www.doi.gov/horse.