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Report: BLM’s policy violations contributed to outbreak that killed 145 wild horses in Colorado

Several gated, outdoor areas fill the composition, and many horses can be seen in each of the areas.
The BLM and East Cañon Correctional Complex have a contract for holding and care of wild horses removed from the range. In April and May, a total of 145 horses died of an equine flu due to violations of federal policy.

This spring, 145 wild horses died of an equine flu at a federal holding facility in Colorado. A review by an animal welfare team found that the Bureau of Land Management failed to comply with federal policies that might have helped contain the outbreak.

According to the report, compiled by BLM officials and a veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the BLM failed to vaccinate horses in a timely manner at its facility in Cañon City, Colorado, which held more than 2,500 animals at the time of the disease outbreak in April. Many horses hadn’t been vaccinated at all, despite being held there since last summer.

The report also found that the facility was significantly understaffed.

Scott Wilson of the American Wild Horse Campaign, a group that advocates for free-roaming wild horses and burros on Western public lands, says the deaths should not be viewed as an isolated incident.

“You can’t keep piling wild horses into a broken system,” Wilson said. “Clearly, they’re safer in the wild. The BLM report kind of adds up – in my assessment – to overcrowding an inadequate system.”

The BLM also launched a broader, interagency review of the events surrounding the outbreak, which will be detailed in another report.

“This review will allow us to better understand management factors that may have contributed to this outbreak so we can better understand how to avoid another outbreak,” BLM Colorado Acting State Director Stephanie Connolly said in a statement.

The BLM holds roughly 58,000 wild horses across the West. About 64,000 are roaming free, more than half of which are in Nevada.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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