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The Bureau of Land Management this week launches another roundup to remove wild horses from Utah's open range, this time targeting Blawn Wash in Beaver County, where ranchers have complained free-roaming horses are degrading the range.

The roundup fulfills a legal settlement with state officials who took the BLM to court last year over the proliferation of wild horses on state trust lands in the West Desert. That settlement calls on the feds and the state to work cooperatively to manages horses there. These animals, which are protected under federal law, have become a sore point for ranchers and county commissioners who say the BLM is failing to keep horse numbers in check.

The agency spends millions gathering horses off the range and housing them for life in contract corrals.

Starting on Wednesday, the BLM will deploy helicopters to drive up to 150 horses into traps. The public is invited to observe the operation each day. Those interested must meet BLM staff at the KB Express, 238 S. Main in Milford, by 5 a.m. Call 801-539-4050 for details.

Last month, the BLM removed 370 horses from the Conger and Frisco herd-management areas. About 60 were returned to the range as part of a population-control research project.

Under a 2001 land exchange, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration amassed a 26,000-acre block of land about 35 miles southwest of Milford at Blawn Wash, representing 43 percent of what was then a federal herd-management area and more than two-thirds of its forage.

The state has routinely pressured the BLM to rid these lands of horses, but their numbers bounced back after each of the previous four roundups. Since 2000, the BLM has pulled 550 horses from Blawn, including 143 as recently as two years ago.

Some of the gathered animals are adopted out, but most join thousands of other formerly free-roaming horses spending their lives in captivity at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Federal law prohibits the killing of wild horses except for humanitarian purposes.

Horse advocacy groups, which had tried to intervene in the suit, were displeased with the BLM court settlement, asserting it puts the narrow interests of ranchers ahead of the broader public's.

"This Blawn Wash roundup is the latest example of the BLM eliminating wild horses to make room for private livestock grazing on our public lands," said Deniz Bolbol of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. "The BLM is wiping out wild horses by eliminating [or zeroing out] congressionally designated wild horse habitat and giving it to welfare ranchers who profit from taxpayer-subsidized grazing on our public lands."

Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. Maffly can be reached at or 801-257-8713.

Twitter: @brianmaffly