HERRIMAN — A 15-year Salt Lake County tradition offering public viewing and adoptions of wild horses and burros is closing its doors for the winter — and ultimately for good within two years.
Top Bureau of Land Management managers in Utah said the closure of the Wild Horse and Burro Facility in Butterfield Canyon in southwestern Salt Lake County is painful, but ultimately the best decision.
"It was originally purposed to be a seasonal facility and just prep horses over the summer," said the BLM's Salt Lake Field Office Manager Jill Silvey. "It is really not the ideal location to (winter) horses."
Silvey said 64 animals were shipped out of the facility Wednesday to the BLM's facility in Gunnison and the remaining 167 remaining horses and burros will be shipped to other locations by the end of the month.
After that, the facility will be closed to the public.
"I am not sure they will be back in the spring."
The closure comes in the aftermath of a BLM review prompted by allegations of abuse.
Facility managers were struggling with record snowfall and an unusually wet spring this year that saw precipitation 400 percent of normal. A video showing the muddy conditions and an injured horse was posted on YouTube by The Cloud Foundation — a wild horse advocacy organization extremely critical of BLM practices.
The BLM's investigation concluded that the allegations raised did not equate to abuse, but the muddy conditions at the center presented an "unacceptable situation."
The report, too, acknowledged that excessive mud at the center — while exceptionally bad this year — has been a challenge for years because of the sloping geography where the center was built.
Silvey said the BLM looked at the possibility of moving the center to another location in Salt Lake County, but it was cost-prohibitive.
"And we're not in the business of building new federal facilities."
The BLM, too, has expanded its Utah locations since the Butterfield facility was built — offering horses for adoption at two permanent locations in Gunnison and in Delta. On a regular basis the agency hosts adoptions and training exhibitions at satellite locations throughout the state, including the Salt Lake County Equestrian Center in South Jordan.
Silvey said the BLM is exploring the possibility of a partnership with a private, non-profit organization that wants to keep BLM wild horse and burro adoptions a more permanent fixture along the Wasatch Front.
The Herriman facility was extremely popular among Wasatch Front residents, she said, averaging 850 visitors a month during the summer.
"We looked at a hundred different ways to keep it going, make it work. In the end, you cannot fight Mother Nature and that hillside."