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Despite opposition from wild-horse groups, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced Monday a decision to gather and remove excess horses in the Bible Spring Complex of southwestern Utah.

The Cedar City Field Office of the BLM signed the decision authorizing the gathering of about 140 animals from the Blawn Wash Herd Management in July.

That's just the beginning of management tactics approved to reduce the number of wild horses, now estimated at 755, down to the number that the agency deems appropriate — about 100 horses. The "Bible Spring Complex Gather, Removal and Fertility Treatment Plan" calls for up to four round-ups over a six-to-10-year period. It also authorizes the use of fertility control.

But Deniz Bolbol, communications director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said the BLM shouldn't be removing any horses.

"It's unfortunate. More than 35,000 Americans submitted comments opposing this roundup, but the BLM is plowing ahead to appease a handful of ranchers so they can keep having their below-market grazing on our public lands," Bolbol said. "The problem is not excess horses — it's excess cows."

The group says the BLM horse count is inaccurate and contends the agency is caving to "bullying" by ranchers.

A battle between the counties and the BLM started this spring as ranchers stated there were too many animals sharing a rangeland threatened by drought. The counties threatened to perform a roundup of their own if the BLM did not reduce the numbers of wild horses.

A lawsuit has been filed against the BLM by ranchers demanding wild horses be kept within established limits.

Meanwhile, wild horse advocates are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list wild horses as threatened or endangered, which would trigger protections for herds in 10 Western states.

The Bible Spring Complex comprises four herd management areas — Bible Spring, Blawn Wash, Tilly Creek and Four Mile — located in western Iron and Beaver counties, approximately 30 miles west of Minersville.

- Tribune reporter Kirsten Stewart contributed to this story.

Twitter: @BrettPrettyman