Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro roundup operations will be more humane and transparent under new policy directives which, according to the agency, were developed in response to public concern about the animals’ welfare.

The BLM assumed responsibility for managing wild horse and burro herds in 1971 when Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act. At the time, wild horse and burros had access to 53.5 million acres of public lands in Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. Since then, changes in land ownership and congressional public land use decisions, diminished ranges open to horses in those states. To prevent horses from overgrazing shrinking range lands, the BLM removes wild horses from the ranges every four years. In recent years, some mustang welfare advocates have criticized the BLM and its contractors on grounds that roundup and animal holding operations put the animals at risk for injury or death.

On Feb. 1, the agency announced a series of policy directives aimed at making gather operations more humane and more transparent. Under the new directives contractors conducting BLM wild horse and burro gathers must pace roundups to accommodate young, lame, or elderly animals that are unable to keep up with their herds, and contractors must make every effort to keep mares and foal together during roundups. The policies also require agency personnel and contractors to provide a safe vantage point for the public and the media to view gather operations, and to post daily gather reports, including photographs and video footage, on the Internet.

BLM spokesw