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Mesa Verde National Park begins horse roundup

A roundup of horses at Mesa Verde National Park has begun.
National Mustang Association Colorado Chapter is assisting with process, training and eventual adoptions

Mesa Verde National Park has begun operations to relocate free-roaming horses from the park.

An estimated 50 to 60 “trespass horses” live in the park backcountry in different bands, in violation of the park regulations that prohibit livestock.

The initial phase of the project began in late September with the capture of a single horse using low-stress, livestock handling techniques, according to an Oct. 8 press release from the park.

The Colorado Chapter of the National Mustang Association is assisting the park by providing volunteers, planning, and logistical support for the roundup process and to help organize adoptions.

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Park managers will hold the horses for up to 30 days, provide veterinarian care as needed and will follow the methods prescribed by the American Veterinarian Medical Association.

After years of study and public input, the park decided to remove the horses through low stress, bait-trapping methods over several years. Any horse that enters the park will be removed, and fencing is being improved on the park’s boundaries.

Free-roaming horses at Mesa Verde National Park enjoy salt licks put out as bait for their eventual capture.

The National Mustang Association Colorado Chapter has been providing updates on the Mesa Verde roundup process on its Facebook page. The group has agreed to take the horses for taming, training and adoption.

The park has tried habituate horses with water and hay so that they associate humans with resources before being captured, NMACO stated. The plan is to capture two bands next year using the low-stress, bait trapping method.

Horses have been entering the trap sites, NMACO said. The group gathered 10 volunteers who completed the park’s backcountry certification program and can now assist with the baiting, gather, and care during holding. The next step is to transport the horses to “Mustang Camp” for taming and training so that they can be handled and assessed for adoption.

In September, the park brought in Whit Hibbard, a specialist in low-stress stockmanship, to provide a full day class for volunteers and a day of hands-on field work with demo horses.

Although many of the park’s horses were born and live in the wild, they are not classified as wild by the federal government. The park is not designated as a wild horse herd management area under the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

Park officials further justify their removal because the horses can cause damage to archaeological sites and compete with elk for limited range and water sources.

Free roaming horses live in the backcountry at Mesa Verde National Park.

Mesa Verde National Park was established to preserve and protect architecture, objects, and landscapes associated with the Ancestral Pueblo people that occupied Mesa Verde and the Four Corners area.

“The presence of trespass livestock is inconsistent with the park’s mission to preserve the cultural and natural resources within the park,” states the Oct. 8 press release. “Additionally, Mesa Verde National Park does not have the legal authority to allow livestock use within the park under 36 Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart 2.60.”

jmimiaga@the-journal.com