- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is seeking people’s thoughts and ideas for a proposed eco-sanctuary north of Lander that would take in as many as 250 wild horses.

The eco-sanctuary on the 900-acre Double D Ranch on the Wind River Indian Reservation would be the second like it in Wyoming.

“There’s certainly a need for us to provide a place to help the BLM with the population control,” Double D owner Dwayne Oldham, a former Wyoming state veterinarian, said Tuesday.

Wild horses would be sent to the eco-sanctuary after being gathered from overpopulated Western wild horse herds. The Bureau of Land Management is taking comments on the proposal during a feedback period that ends March 4.

The bureau about a year ago helped to establish a wild horse eco-sanctuary on the 4,700-acre Deerwood Ranch near Centennial in southeast Wyoming. That eco-sanctuary - the first of its kind in the U.S. - is now home to about 250 to 300 wild horses.

The eco-sanctuaries provide another option for the bureau as it faces pressure from ranchers to control wild-horse numbers on ranges in Wyoming and elsewhere in the West. Ranchers say the horses compete with cattle for forage, especially near water sources used by both cattle and horses.

Last year, the bureau signed a consent decree with the Rock Springs Grazing Association, a group of ranchers who run cattle on southwest Wyoming’s vast “checkerboard” of intermixed public and private lands, to resolve an association lawsuit. The association complained that wild-horse numbers had grown well beyond the bureau’s population objectives.

The court-approved agreement establishes new limits on wild-horse numbers in the area.

Meanwhile, the bureau faces pressure from groups who say wild horses should be allowed to roam free and not be subjected to too many roundups to control their numbers.

The bureau attempts to adopt out rounded-up wild horses, but finding enough people willing and able to take in horses that have had little exposure to human beings isn’t all that easy.

Horses sent to the Double D will be able to graze on irrigated pastures, according to the bureau.

“They’ll primarily be made up of Wyoming wild horses. But they could come from other places as well,” bureau spokeswoman Sarah Beckwith said.

Oldham said he already owns a number of horses and that treating horses accounts for a large portion of his veterinary practice. He said his eco-sanctuary will have a visitor center that tells tourists about the history of wild horses in the region.

Bureau officials will decide after the feedback period how much additional study the proposal might require, but the eco-sanctuary could be up and running by late summer or early fall, Beckwith said.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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