Group reconsiders Mesa Verde horse roundup

Auction may pit group against slaughterhouse

Feral horses roam the backcountry at Mesa Verde National Park. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Feral horses roam the backcountry at Mesa Verde National Park.

Wild horse advocates concerned about feral herds at Mesa Verde National Park are reconsidering a roundup to reduce populations at the park.

The Colorado Chapter of the National Mustang Association announced they may move forward with the roundup process after backing out of an earlier one because of unfavorable Colorado branding laws. The fear was the horses could end up in the hands of slaughterhouses.

“We are more than willing to go through a roundup process because there is no way around the branding laws,” said Tif Rodriguez, executive director for the Colorado Chapter. “We realize we could be competing with the slaughterhouses during the auction.”

An estimated 100 to 117 feral horses at Mesa Verde delight tourists, but they put pressure on native wildlife such as elk and deer at watering holes. An extremely dry June and July caused six horses to die in a six-week period. Park biologists said dehydration likely played a role in some of the deaths.

The situation triggered an organized protest at the park on July 29 with participants demanding water be provided for the animals. But official park policy is to not feed wildlife, including horses.

The park is working to reduce the feral horse population and is installing fencing to prevent them entering the park at the Ute Mountain Ute reservation boundary.

“Once we have a more control of the population and know how many we have in the park, then we can manage the herds more effectively,” said park biologist Neal Perry.

To remedy the situation, a roundup was being organized with the Wild Mustang Association in June. However, the horse group called it off after it became apparent the horses would have to go through the Colorado branding process. The concern is that, under the law, the horses have to be sold at auction and could potentially be bought up by slaughterhouses.

“I feel we will be successful in buying them,” Rodriguez said. “Then we board them at our facilities and adopt them out or send them to horse rescue-organizations,” Rodriguez said.

The horses sell for $30 to $40 per head, but slaughterhouses could increase the bid during the auction, which would take place at the Cortez Sale Barn.

Roundups of wild horses are not easy. Biologists use bait to lure horses over time into a certain area. Coral fencing is progressively installed over multiple days until they are surrounded. Then they are loaded onto trailers, go through the 14-day brand inspection process, and then transported to auction facilities.

“It’s frustrating not to do anything,” said Lynda Larsen, of the Mustang Association. “To let them die of dehydration is unacceptable. They are a part of our heritage.”

The feral horses at the park do not fall under protections of the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which has established designated areas, including for the Spring Creek herd in Disappointment Valley. During dry periods, water is sometimes provided for those herds under the law.

“The horses at the park are as wild as the Spring Creek herd,” Rodriguez said. “They are untouched by man and go back 10 generations.”

jmimiaga@cortezjournal.com