A plan to roundup and remove a wild horse herd from Mesa Verde National Park is still in the review process, according to the Colorado Chapter of the National Mustang Association.
The park is partnering with the mustang association for support with the adoption process.
A memorandum of understanding between the park and horse group has been drafted and is being reviewed by the Office of the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of Interior, said Nancy Schaufele, spokeswoman for the NMA Colorado Chapter.
“We have had several meetings with park officials and are getting the plan dialed in,” she said.
In March, the park announced a decision for a phased, proactive approach to remove the horses within five years and improve the park’s boundary fencing over the next 10 years to prevent livestock from re-entering the park.
“We are working on how to humanely remove livestock from the park and identify potential homes for captured, unclaimed livestock,” said Mesa Verde National Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer.
The park plans to remove 65 to 80 horses from the park and put them up for adoption in horse sanctuaries. The horses are in violation of park policy because they are not considered wildlife.
The horses impact cultural sites and compete with elk, deer and bears for limited grazing and water sources. Feral cattle also will be captured.
Tim McGaffic, an expert in low-stress roundup techniques, has been contacted by the park to run the roundup. The park has agreed to utilize a pilot program of low-stress gathering methods to mitigate animal welfare issues.
“If this gather goes well, the gentler method could be used as model for other horse roundups on public lands,” Schaufele said.
The initial plan was to remove 50 percent this year and 80 percent by 2020.
The wild horses will be baited with food and water in advance of the roundup. The process helps acclimates them to people and improves the gentling process for adoption, Schaufele said.
Family bands of the horse herd are identified and rounded up together to reduce stress, she said. The primary capture methods identified in the decision include baited pen trapping and horseback roundups. Once in corrals, the horses will be cared for and checked by veterinarians. After removed from the park, they will be gentled, trained and put up for adoption.
NMACO will be coordinating with the park to take title and possession of the gathered unclaimed horses after a holding period of up to 30 days. They will seek appropriate adopters, sanctuaries and trainers who qualify to take horses. Opportunities will be offered for qualified adopters to have their horses gentled and begin their training before taking them.
The National Park Service will coordinate with the Colorado Brand Inspection Division and local brand inspectors to identify possible owners of the trespass livestock and will follow the most humane methods as defined by the American Veterinarian Medical Association, the park said.
In April, The Journal requested media access to the roundup process, but was denied by the park superintendent.
Other horse roundups on federal land have included public and media viewing areas, and courts have ruled that media have a First Amendment right to witness federal government activities.
In a letter to Spencer on behalf of The Journal, Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, stated: “Accommodating a single reporter and pool photographer for a limited period of time at a considerable distance from the wrangler-horse interactions is a constitutionally appropriate way to protect the public’s First Amendment right to access a National Park and to engage in protected newsgathering activities there.”
The park has not replied to the letter, and recent messages and questions to park officials about the roundup status and media access were not returned.
For the gentling training of the Mesa Verde horses, NMACO is working with Mustang Camp, an New Mexico nonprofit organization that trains wild horses for adoption.
For more information on adoptions, contact Nancy Schaufele at firstname.lastname@example.org