Range war: BLM, Iron County to work together on feral horse issue

Feral horses, Dugway, Utah, June 2008 | Photo courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Salt Lake Field Office, St. George News

IRON COUNTY – Iron County officials and the Bureau of Land Management reached a resolution Friday concerning the county’s ongoing feral horse problems. Iron County and the BLM will work together to remedy the issue. While the BLM will need time to formalize things on its end in relation to dealing with the feral horses and burros, Iron County has opted to go ahead with its original plan of action.

A letter sent, an ultimatum issued

Earlier this week the Iron County County Commission sent a letter to the BLM questioning its priorities.

In order to deal with some 500 to 900 head of cattle trespassing on public lands in Clark County, Nev., the BLM has devoted a possible $2 million in resources toward the endeavor. At the same time, the agency has repeatedly told Iron County that it lacks needed resources to deal with the runaway feral horse and burro populations negatively impacting that county, according to the county’s letter to the BLM.

The feral horse herds pose a threat to the wildlife and livestock in Iron County as they are forced to compete for forage during a period of ongoing drought, the Iron County Commission said in the letter. Since the BLM hadn’t taken action in the matter, the Commission declared they would. They believe the feral horses to be a more imminent threat than trespassing cattle.

“Orders will be given to the Iron County Sheriff, deputies and other authorized agents to take necessary means to reduce the numbers of feral horses for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Iron County as well as the habitat on western range within the county,” the County Commission wrote. “This is not a threat. This is a plan of action.”

The letter gave the BLM until noon on Friday to respond, and respond it did.

Response and the county’s next move

Iron County Commissioner David Miller said Friday morning that the county has been in direct contact with BLM’s Utah office and State Director Juan Palma. Palma, he said, contacted BLM headquarters in Washington, D.C., over the matter and had been told to work with the county to address the feral horse and burro issue.

“It sounds like they’re getting on board,” Miller said. “It’s really favorable and we’re working together. We’re really pleased with the response.”

Though the BLM has said it is moving as quickly as it can, it’s not enough, Miller said. “We’re moving forward with our plan.”

To this end, Miller said the county met with ranchers Friday afternoon to go over the logistics involved in rounding up and removing the threat of the feral herd. They will be meeting again next week to fine-tune the details.

Iron County officials will continue to watch the actions of the BLM in Clark County, Nev., Miller said, as it rounds up cattle belonging to Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy.

We want to make sure we’re not just being spoken to and then nothing happens,” he said.

It was the BLM’s announcement last week and subsequent mobilization against the Bundy cattle that prompted the Iron County Commission’s response. The BLM and Bundy have been at odds for 20 years since the rancher stopped paying grazing permit fees for his use of public lands in 1993 following. At the time those permits had been modified with additional rules and regulations aimed at protecting desert tortoise habitat from livestock. Since then, the BLM has either closed or reduced the size of allotted grazing areas in an effort to protect and preserve tortoise habitat.

Miller visited the Bundy Ranch Friday to see the situation firsthand. Being in another county in an entirely different state, the Iron County Commission obviously does not have jurisdiction in the matter. Miller said federal agents should take advantage of the situation and find a much more palatable resolution to the trespassing cattle than coming off looking like a bully flexing its muscles and picking on Bundy. 

“They have a huge opportunity for conflict resolution,” he said, “they’re having a (public relations) nightmare.”

Calls to the BLM-Utah state office were not returned by the time of publication.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Kc Coleman April 5, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    You have to remove the freeloading cattle, that Bundy has not paid grazing rights on in years. If the cattle are gone, then the horses, sage grouse, and tortoises should be good to go 😉 okay, you might have to give the horses a slow down, or introduce wolves 😉 just kidding!! ( every ranchers favorite!!!!)

  • cranky April 7, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    First clean up the cattle mess. IF YOU GRAZE YOU GOTTA FENCE. Get them out of
    rivers and streams. Leave the horses alone they will control themselves.

  • Togian April 12, 2014 at 8:12 am

    These welfare ranchers that pay low grazing fees and even freeload on lands that belong to the American people, now want the pubic lands given to them. NO WAY,

  • LaBeez April 12, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Enraged. “Feral horses pose a threat to wildlife” – sheer insanity with no back-up. Grazing cattle, poorly overseen by neeedygreedy ranchers, slice and dice the landscape — over-large herds driven across dry lands not meant to support their population. The wild horses are an American icon, far more than the poor food fodder we call cattle. The ranchers around here are falling into two camps, despite themselves – those who call themselves responsible herding cattle in a desert region (& respect the wild horse population) & those who want to pull a gun out if you dare challenge their right to abuse the land the same way their families have for generations.

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