FILLMORE — There's a good chance many of the wild horses roaming in Millard and Beaver counties have never seen a helicopter.
That changed Tuesday.
The Bureau of Land Management held a wild horse round-up in this remote section of Utah, hoping to capture as many horses as possible.
“If we allowed them to continue in the wild, you would see overgrazing. Eventually, you would see some effects of body condition,” said Gus Warr, a manager with the BLM’s wild horse and burro program. “If we had a bad winter out here, the horses could get stressed out and we could get in trouble.”
However, rounding up wild horses is one of the most, if not the most, controversial program the BLM conducts.
“People are very passionate against rounding them up, and other people are saying it needs to be done — that they need to be managed,” said Warr.
In 1978, the BLM figured the West could sustain some 27,000 wild horses. Now, the BLM estimates there are some 37,000 wild horses roaming.
However, there are roughly 45,000 wild horses already in BLM holding facilities and space is quickly running out.
Horse auctions aren't going as fast as they used to.
“It is an issue where we have numbers that maybe should be removed, but we can't because of holding facility space and environmental conditions like our drought. It's a tough situation,” said Warr.
The BLM used a helicopter to round up horses on a recent afternoon, making several rounds. The horses ran into holding gates that had been previously set up.
One of those who came to the public roundup was LeAnn Cole of Santa Clara, Washington County. She worries the stress from running away from a helicopter could harm the horses.
"I don't know. I haven't seen one of these roundups before," said Cole, “but I know I’m not for it at all.”
Cole believes the horses should be allowed to roam freely.
"I think the horses belong on the land. I think they should have a place. It's not a very big place," she said.
The smaller space is exactly why the BLM believes the wild horses need to be rounded up all across the West. There isn’t enough grazing land for their increasing numbers, especially when you factor in grazing land for cattle.
"There's definitely a place for horses, but the management of them is the problem," said Tammy Pearson, a rancher who has been raising cattle in Millard and Beaver counties for nearly three decades.
The population of wild horses has grown out of control, she said, and the BLM needs to round up horses to keep them in manageable numbers.
"It's not that we have anything against the horses. We just want it to be a managed herd so they're not suffering, too," said Pearson. “We've actually had to cut our own numbers back, just to compensate for the feed loss.”
Of course, after the BLM rounds up the horses, they have to take care of them, too.
"We're spending millions and millions of dollars on the program that some people think we really should be spending elsewhere," said Warr. “But we have a legal mandate to manage the horses on and off the range.”
Horse activists argue, though, that the horses were here first.
"I don't want to impede on anyone's motivations for doing what they do for a living,” said Cole, “but it's just like, how can you do it? Something beautiful in the world should just be left beautiful and not captured to sell at a profit."