RENO, Nev. — Federal land managers have finished a major roundup of wild horses from the range north of Reno, and are gearing up to remove thousands of more mustangs across the West.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials on Friday said 1,922 horses were removed from the Calico Mountains Complex in the roundup that was opposed by activists.
Agency spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said an estimated 600 horses remain in the complex, which is within the management level of 600 to 900 set for the area.
The agency had planned to remove about 2,500 horses, but a lot of mustangs roamed out of the complex after the roundup began Dec. 28, she said.
"The gather went well overall," Worley said. "By reducing the population now, we've avoided the potential for having to conduct an emergency gather later this summer."
The BLM maintains that the roundup was necessary because an overpopulation of horses is harming native wildlife and the range, and threatening the mustangs with starvation.
Activists unsuccessfully sued to halt the roundup, branding it as unnecessary and inhumane. They now are preparing to fight similar government roundups across the West.
"They're just setting their sights on the next herd," said Makendra Silverman of the horse advocacy group Cloud Foundation based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I doubt any range improvement will be seen. In the end, it's a disgrace and waste of taxpayer money," she said, adding the agency should remove cattle to free up room for the horses.
Worley said 39 horses have died since the roundup began — seven at the gather site and 32 at a Fallon facility where they were taken. Officials are preparing the animals there for adoption or transfer to pastures in the Midwest.
Many mares were in emaciated condition, and either showed up dead in Fallon or had to be euthanized, she said.
Another two dozen or so pregnant mares had miscarriages due to various factors, including poor body condition and the stress of the roundup, Worley added.
A contractor used two helicopters under BLM supervision to drive horses in the Calico complex to corrals. The animals were then trucked to Fallon.
The roundup was part of the Obama administration's strategy to remove thousands of mustangs from the range and ship them to pastures in the Midwest and East.
The government said the number of wild horses and burros on public lands in the West stands at nearly 37,000, about half of them in Nevada. It believes the number that can be supported on the range is about 26,600.
An additional 34,000 wild horses already live away from the range in federal-run corrals and pastures.
Activists have said they plan to sue to halt the government's next planned roundup of nearly 500 horses from the range in eastern Nevada.
Worley said several other roundups are tentatively set for Nevada this year. A roundup targeting about 1,800 horses is planned this summer on a swath of California and Nevada north of Reno.