Wild horse roundups ramping up as drought grips the US West

TOOELE, Utah (AP) — The sound of the helicopter propeller thundered across the horizon as it dipped down toward mustangs dotting the golden brown plain. The horses burst into a gallop at the machine’s approach, their high-pitched whinnies rising into the dry air.
That helicopter roundup in the mountains of western Utah removed hundreds of free-roaming wild horses, shortly before the Biden administration announced it would sharply increase the number of mustangs removed across the region. It’s an emergency step land managers say is essential to preserving the ecosystem and the horses as a megadrought worsened by climate change grips the region.
“What were seeing here in the West gives some insight into a new norm,” Terry Messmer, a professor at Utah State University who studies wild horse management.
The removals are adding fuel to longstanding conflicts with activists for the animals whose beauty and power make them an enduring emblem of the American West. They say the U.S. government is using the drought as an excuse to take out horses in favor of cattle grazing.
Horses that are captured are held in government corrals and pastures mostly in the West and Midwest before they are made available for public adoption. Some also end up being used by law enforcement entities such as the U.S. Border Patrol, or go to prison inmate programs where they are tamed for future use.
Advocates tried unsuccessfully to stop the roundup of Utah’s Onaqui herd, one that’s captured the imagination of Hollywood celebrities and Girl Scout troops alike. Horses in the picturesque and accessible herd are so well known that many have names, like the patriarch “Old Man.” He was left behind in the July roundup, but about 300 other horses were taken to be adopted or kept in captivity for the rest…
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