The Red Desert of southern Wyoming is one of the last high-desert ecosystems in the United States. This vast 9,320 square mile area is home to an abundance of wildlife and federally protected wild horses.
There are five herds that have called this land home for centuries: Antelope Hills, Crooks Mountain, Green Mountain, Lost Creek, and Stewart Creek. Together, these wild mustangs and the Herd Management Areas (HMAs) they live in, make up the Red Desert Complex, 703,500 acres of public land and 49,500 acres of private land.
In September, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it would be conducting a massive helicopter roundup and removal of approximately 2,400 wild horses from within the Complex in October. According to the American Wild Horse Campaign, this number represents the largest removal of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program since its inception.
The BLM plans to reduce the wild horse population to the “Appropriate” Management Level (AML) of just 480-724 within the complex, leaving three of the HMA’s with just 65 or fewer horses remaining. At the low end, that equates to 1 horse per every 1,500+ areas.
Meanwhile, the BLM permits 20,995 privately-owned sheep and 9,763 cows on the various allotments throughout the year within the federally-designated wild horse habitats.
November 12, 2020: 17 wild horses were captured today. This concluded the Red Desert Complex roundup operation, the largest in BLM history. In total,1,969 wild horses lost their freedom and 10 lost their lives.
November 9-11, 2020: There were no roundup operations over the last several days.
November 8, 2020: No wild horses were rounded up and removed from public lands today.
November 7, 2020: 27 wild horses were rounded up and removed from public lands.
November 6, 2020: There was no roundup operation today, however the BLM did release 20 mares back the Crooks Mountain HMA. All were treated with PZP-22 and freeze branded with the official BLM brand, HB.
November 5, 2020: 50 wild horses were rounded up and removed from public lands.
There was 1 death after a horse fractured leg and pelvis.
On the first day of the Green Mountain HMA portion of the roundup, we were caravanning along a dusty road to the observation lookout point and Lynn Hanson (photographer on the ground for AWHC) looked to her left and saw that the roundup was already in progress.
Because the caravan was driving to the parking area at the same time the helicopter was bringing in a band of mustangs, she missed most of it. Except, she did stop her vehicle, I grabbed her camera and snapped these shots. The jute fence was very close to the road so these heartbreaking images revealed to me right away just WHO these horses were, coming in at high speed.
They happen to be one of her favorite families.They are all extraordinary pintos except for the stallion, who Lynn and her husband called Ruby-2. He’s a great big beautiful sorrel. And he is a good band stallion.
"I knew Green Mountain was going to be the most painful to observe— I just can’t believe this was the first group of horses that I had to witness losing their freedom."
November 4, 2020: 24 lost their freedom today, and there were no deaths.
The observation point that day was up on a rocky hill. There was no view of the trap whatsoever. Observers waited for the helicopter to bring in bands of horses. In the 3 hours that we sat overlooking the big empty, they brought in only 24 horses that afternoon.
The trap was located just below the helicopter. This is not meaningful observation, when the public cannot see what's happening to their horses on their public lands.
The helicopter chased this family band all around until he finally got behind and drove them in.
You can see I’ve had to crop these pics otherwise they’d look like ants. It seemed like the action was miles away.
The flyover population survey for Crooks Mountain HMA was estimated at 884 horses with 819 to be removed. That leaves 65 horses, the low AML.
To give some perspective of our view on the last day observing Crooks a mountain HMA. Definitely a stunning place. This lone horse did get away. We were happy to see the pilot did not pursue him any longer.
November 3, 2020: 81 wild horses were rounded up and removed and there were 3 deaths:
1 for chronic lameness due to an old dislocated or broken front leg
1 for club foot
1 for multiple melanomas.
November 2, 2020: **Update: 98 wild horses were rounded up and removed.
At the time of report, the BLM had not updated its removal numbers, but Lynn Hanson of WildHorses.WildPlaces was on the ground and took photos of the recently removed wild mustangs from Lost Creek.
November 1, 2020: No roundup operations today. But 2 horses were euthanized for "Osteoarthritis" of knees.
October 31, 2020: 76 wild horses were rounded up and removed.
October 30, 2020: 107 wild horses lost their freedom today.
October 29, 2020: 178 wild horses were rounded up and removed, bringing the current total to 1,489 horses removed and 4 deaths.
October 28, 2020: 188 wild horses were rounded up and removed from the Red Desert complex, and there was one death: a horse was euthanized after suffering what was likely a broken neck at the trap site.
October 27, 2020: No wild horses were rounded up and removed today.
We watched as 25 wild horses were released back to the Lost Creek HMA. One trailer of mares and one trailer of stallions. The mares had been treated with PZP-22 and freeze brand on the left hip with the letters HB.
October 26, 2020: Our field representative did not attend the roundup today because it was only 1 degree Fahrenheit. They advised BLM not to fly, but at the time of this report we do not know if the agency did or not, but doing so would be a CAWP violation.
October 25, 2020: The helicopters did not fly today due to extreme weather conditions.
October 24, 2020: 113 wild horse captured at the Lost Creek HMA at the on-going Red Desert roundup. One colt was euthanized for a badly deformed leg, according to BLM.
Observation offered a distant view a mile away from the trap.
Horses were grouped together and pushed towards the trap, later breaking away and bands scattered in all directions.
The two black horses refused to enter the trap, then headed past us as they made an escape.
October 23, 2020: 263 wild horses were captured and removed today at the Lost Creek HMA. A mare died in temporary holding after being kicked in the head but another horse.
Freezing temperatures ranging between 15 to 28 degrees.
Observation offered a distant view a mile away from the trap.
One foal was struggling to keep up with the group.
On our way out we stopped and photographed one of the local favorites (Looking Glass) that was lucky enough to avoid capture today.
October 22, 2020: There was no roundup today due to weather conditions.
October 21, 2020: 13 wild horses captured and removed from Arapaho Creek, outside of the HMA boundaries.
Operations stopped early due to high winds and the trap will move Lost Creek HMA tomorrow. Observation offered a distant view about a mile from the trap.
One band, led by a black stallion, refused to enter the trap. This is the same band that had previously avoided capture 3 days ago.
The band had been pushed towards the trap with another group of horses but then promptly broke away.
The proud stallion was separated from the rest of the herd purposely by the helicopter in an attempt to capture his family and deter them from following him.
Moments later the black stallion and his band ran towards each other and reunited before escaping up the mountain.
A true freedom fighter. We love to see it.
October 20, 2020 73 wild horses captured and removed from Arapaho Creek, outside of the HMA boundaries.
The removal included Apollo and his extremely colorful family. Observation offered a lot of wind and a distant view of the trap wings.
The horses came in with good weight and showed an amazing amount of color.
October 19, 2020: The roundup was called off today, due to high winds.
We had a lone sheep show up at our viewing area this morning.
After it was called off for the day, we decided to go looking for wild horses on the Arapaho Creek HA.
We only found one single horse, but we did see an abundance of sheep.
October 18, 2020: 121 wild horses lost their freedom today.
Observation offered a distant view, about a mile from the trap. No injuries or deaths today.
The removal included Blue Zeus and the Big Band along with other local favorites (below).
The horses came in with good weight and showed a lot of color.
One band escaped by refusing to enter the trap.
While no horses captured today will be released back on the HA, the cattle continue to graze.
October 17, 2020: There were no round up operations today because of the weather.
We did watch as 20 stallions and 46 mares were released back on the Stewart Creek HMA today. Mares had been branded and treated with PZP-22.
October 16, 2020: 128 wild horses were captured and removed from pubic lands today and there was one death, however at the time of this report, the BLM has not relayed what the "acute" (result of the roundup) death entailed.
October 15, 2020: 78 wild horses were rounded up and removed today, and there were no injuries or deaths reported.
October 14, 2020: The roundup was canceled today due to a high wind warning in the area.
October 13, 2020: 75 wild horses were captured today and there were no injuries or deaths reported.
We watched this family running through the chute but then stop before they got any further. In a panic, they turn around looking for a different way out. Because there were two helicopters working different groups of horses in the same vicinity, we did not see exactly how the little family got free from the jute fence. Next thing you know, we were photographing them running away from the trap site with one of the helicopters in pursuit of them.
As they kept running, we noticed they were heading in our direction, getting closer to the public observation point, and that’s when the helicopter turned around and headed back. As the family of five ran past us, we were rooting them on. They were a beautiful family. And thanks to their tenacity, are still wild and free.
October 12, 2020: It was cold and very windy this morning when we arrived at our observation point. The trap site was about half a mile away, perhaps even further.
They brought in 84 horses today. No injuries, no deaths. They shipped 79 horses (from Saturday) to Cañon City, Colorado.
Tomorrow we’ll be at the same observation lookout, knee-deep in sagebrush. They are hoping to bring in 150 horses (providing it’s not too windy again) and the same amount on Wednesday. If so, they will wrap up Stewart Creek HMA and release the “keeper” horses back to the range on Thursday. Everything is always tentative.
After that, they’ll move on to Lost Creek HMA.
This is a stallion who escaped from the jute chute. His family was captured, and it looked like he slowly trudged into the desert, his head hanging low from extreme exhaustion or very sad that he lost his family. He looked hopeless as he stopped to rest before moving on. It was really heartbreaking to watch, whatever the story.
The helicopters could not rein in this small herd. We were all rooting for them.
A heartbreaking scene in a beautiful area.
A stallion, who our observer Lynn Hanson called ‘Pale Face’ in the wild with his herd, and then again captured.
October 11, 2020: The roundup was canceled today due to high winds and rain.
October 10, 2020: The roundup began in the Stewart Creek HMA. Approximately 112 wild horses were rounded up and removed and no injuries or deaths were reported. However at the time of this report the BLM had not yet released the final total.
Photos by Lynn Hanson for AWHC.
Horses are coming off the 750,000 acre Complex in excellent body condition.
At one point during the day, the helicopter was scouting for approximately 2 hours and all it came back with was a small herd of 4 horses (photo above). This suggests both that the horses were running for an extremely long time, and that there are likely less horses in the Stewart Crek HMA than the BLM has stated.
A large group of horses was being brought in by the helicopter and a black foal diverted away from the herd. He was seen looking very dejected and exhausted as he walked in the opposition direction of his family. He was later brought in by a wrangler on horseback. Video shows that he toppled to the ground while being roped.
Privately-owned cows could be seen grazing within the Stewart Creek HMA. According to BLM's Environmental Assessment, there are approximately 1,265 cows grazing in this area currently.
The faces of freedom lost. Temporary holding.