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The federal government is rounding up some of the 82,000 wild horses that live on public lands in ten western states. This year, the bureau, known as the BLM, was tasked with reducing the herd of wild horses and donkeys to 20,000. To help hear the animals, the bureau uses special tools such as helicopters.

Jeff Fontana has worked with the Federal Bureau of Land Management for over 30 years – helping care for America’s wild horses.

“Helicopter is a safe and effective way to get large numbers of animals across the landscape,” Fontana told CBS News’ Joy Benedict in the Twin Peaks Mountains in Larsen County, California.

The chase can go on for miles when a helicopter lands on a group of horses and traps them in an area.

According to Fontana, although injuries do occur, it is relatively safe for horses.

“Our record in this program is very good, with injuries that result in less than one-half of one percent of deaths resulting from our gathering events,” Fontana said.

Fontana said that horses can die through the BLM’s helicopter gathering tactics, just as they can die out of range due to resource degradation due to overpopulation.

Jason Lutterman works for the Wild Horse and Burro Program, which has had 46 roundups in the West this year. Proper herd size must be maintained to ensure adequate food and water for all, he said.

“If we don’t manage wild horse growth here, wild horses will grow 15-20 percent a year, and the herd will continue to grow and eventually degrade the land to the point where they will run out of food and water,” Lutterman said.

“Our goal is to manage healthy herds on healthy public lands. So the way we can do that is to make sure there are enough resources here for these animals to survive,” he said.

BLM manages 26.9 million acres of land. It was established in the 1940s to oversee and protect federal land and lease it for lucrative livestock grazing. But when wild horses began to be hunted, Congress passed the Wild Horses and Wild Horses Act in 1971 to protect them and the land they depend on.

But the use of helicopters to round up wild horses is controversial — some say it’s inhumane.

Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus began a formal review of what the BLM was doing because she was concerned about whether the horses were being rounded up humanely.

“The job of the government and the BLM is to manage it humanely, and there’s no place for humaneness in what’s going on,” she said.

“I didn’t realize how horrific they were until some militant groups started tracking them down. They used helicopters, they drove the horses down,” Titus added.

Titus also introduced a bill to ground helicopters — 25 horses were killed last year alone. Titus believed that using cowboys would be a more humane approach.

“Save a horse, hire a cowboy. They know how to round up horses, and I’m sure it’s more humane than that,” Titus said.

BLM stopped using cowboys to watch Mustangs in the 1970s. Fontana said it used to be a “very difficult situation” to move a horse from its back.

Over the past five years, the Bureau of Land Management has spent more than $450 million on its wild horse and donkey programs. Of that, $25 million was spent on collecting animals, but most of it went to care for long-term captive horses.

“Unadopted animals are cared for long-term in large open grasslands outside the ranch, allowing these animals to roam for the rest of their lives, and yes, caring for unadopted and unsold animals does cost around 60 percent of our budget,” said Feng. Tana.

Although horses are about to be adopted, the BLM only monitors first-year adoptions.

Horses have been adopted and slaughtered in the past, Fontana said, though they do their best to monitor.

“It’s something that we’re acutely aware of and are always on top of,” Fontana said.

One morning, the BLM collected 46 horses, including six foals—most of the animals were sent to makeshift shelters, except for two euthanized due to ill health.

A small number of collected horses will be neutered and released. The rest will live family lives far from the lands that once set them wild and free.



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