- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - Iron County commissioners are mocking a Bureau of Land Management plan to round up 200 wild horses in southern Utah, calling it a “slap in the face.”

The “wild horses being offered up by the BLM is a joke,” the three-person commission said in a statement this week.

The commission says a couple hundred horses is only a fraction of the population of wild horses that are edging cattle and elk out of drought-plagued southern and central Utah pastures. They said about as many more horses will be born this spring as are being rounded up.

The strong words from the southern Utah commission mark the latest development in a quarrel between the two sides over wild horses.

Iron County was one of several counties that recently joined rural Utah ranchers in threatening to break federal law and round up wild horses this summer if the BLM doesn’t do it first. State wildlife officials voted to back the ranchers.

BLM state director Juan Palma said the roundup is merely the start of a broader plan to round up more horses, the Spectrum of St. George reported (http://bit.ly/1phksYx).

The agency wants to gather hundreds of horses, but says its awaiting approval from officials in Washington, D.C. The Utah office says it is expediting the necessary pre-roundup environmental surveys.

This roundup in southern Utah is set to occur in late June or early July, after foaling season, with most of the horses being rounded up in the Blawn Wash Herd Area, west of Milford, the BLM said.

Gov. Gary Herbert this week called the roundup a good start in his monthly news conference on KUED. He said there is no question that wild horses are overrunning some of the land managed by the BLM.

“The sad case is that we’re doubling those populations every three to four years,” Herbert said Thursday. “So, we’re at a critical situation here where we’ve got to do something … At least the BLM recognizes that.”

Horse advocates say the situation is not as dire as it’s being painted. The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign says the ranchers and their allies are trying to “scapegoat” wild horses to divert attention from cattle overrunning the ranges.

According to the BLM, Utah is home to 3,245 wild horses and burros, well above the “appropriate management level” of 1,956.

Utah Wildlife Board members, at a meeting in Salt Lake City earlier this month, voted unanimously to send a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Bureau of Land Management state director Juan Palma urging a reduction in the number of horses on the range.

Commissioners in the neighboring county of Beaver say they support Iron County in their push to have more wild horses corralled, the Spectrum reports.

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