GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Wild-horse advocates are challenging U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans this summer to round up the famous Kiger and Riddle Mountain mustang herds in eastern Oregon, arguing the agency is developing a “master breed” of wild horses exhibiting characteristics of old Spanish bloodlines that are popular with the public, rather than maintaining wild horses in natural conditions, as the law requires.
The Colorado-based group Front Range Equine Rescue filed an appeal of the roundup plan Wednesday with the Interior Board of Land Appeals.
The appeal argues that the BLM returns to the range only horses exhibiting Kiger characteristics, effectively breeding for those characteristics and depleting the gene pool, endangering the ability of the herds to survive in the wild.
“We just believe the Wild Horse Act was intended to protect wild horses in their natural state, not to turn herd management areas into breeding facilities for specific types of horses,” said attorney Bruce Wagman, who represents the wild horse group.
The next roundup is expected in mid-August, with adoptions at the wild horse corrals in Hines in October, the BLM said. Plans call for keeping off the range up to 105 Kigers out of a herd of 141, and 48 Riddle Mountains out of a herd of 73, according to BLM documents.
BLM spokesman Jeff Campbell said bureau lawyers were still examining the appeal, but the bureau keeps close track of the herds’ genetic diversity, bringing in outside horses to the herd when needed, and returns to the range horses less likely to be adopted.
Mr. Wagman said the appeal was the first challenge of a BLM wild horse roundup based on genetic issues. Other challenges have been based on claims of cruelty and whether environmental laws have been followed. Some wild-horse advocates also object to the use of contraceptive to control herd numbers.
Wagman said the appeal was not seeking an order immediately stopping the gather, but they hoped the BLM would hold off until the appeal was settled.
The BLM has put on hold plans to round up 300 wild horses in Nevada after a federal judge temporarily blocked it earlier this year for fear of harm to the mustangs.
The BLM gathers the Kiger and Riddle Mountain herds every four years to control their effect on the range. While other wild horse herds rounded up around the West often go begging, the BLM website says that nearly every one of the Kiger and Riddle Mountain horses brought in is adopted, some in competitive bidding. Meanwhile, nearly 50,000 wild horses are held by the BLM at a cost of $43 million a year because no one wants them.
Located about 50 miles south of Burns, the Kigers are known for being strong compact horses that bond closely with people. They come with distinctive markings, such as a stripe down the back, zebra stripes on the lower legs, long contrasting manes and fine muzzles. The most common colors are dun, but a slate gray known as grulla, and a light buckskin known as claybank, are highly prized.
At one auction in 1999, a claybank filly sold for $19,000. Another served as the model for a 2002 animated movie about wild horses called “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.”
“By capitalizing on the fame and desirability of the Kiger Mustang to the detriment of other horses presently found in the Kiger and Riddle Mountain [herds], BLM is participating in the unlawful commercial exploitation of wild horses that the Wild Horse Act sought to prohibit,” the appeal argues.
“By reducing the genetic diversity in the [herds] to only those horses with Kiger Mustang characteristics, and then conducting gathers every four years to round up these valuable Kiger horses to sell them for adoption, BLM effectively creates a breeding facility that injures the wild horses’ survival possibilities and benefits only BLM and private actors desirous of purchasing this ‘breed,’ ” the appeal said.
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