SALT LAKE CITY – Harsh drought conditions in parts of the West are pushing wild horses to the brink and spurring extreme measures to protect them.
For what they say is the first time, volunteer groups in Arizona and Colorado are hauling thousands of gallons of water and truckloads of food to remote grazing grounds where springs have run dry and vegetation has disappeared.
Federal land managers also have begun emergency roundups in desert areas of Utah and Nevada.
“We've never seen it like this,” said Simone Netherlands, president of the Arizona-based Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. In May, dozens of horses were found dead on the edge of a dried-up watering hole in northeast Arizona.
As spring turned to summer, drought conditions turned from bad to worse, Netherlands said.
Parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico are under the most severe category of drought, though extreme conditions are present from California to Missouri, government analysts say. Parts of the region have witnessed some of the driest conditions on record, amid a cycle of high temperatures and low snowmelt that appears to be getting worse, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney said.
The dry conditions have fed wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of buildings across the West. This month, a firefighter was killed battling a blaze near California's Yosemite National Park.
The federal Bureau of Land Management – which oversees vast expanses of public land, mostly in the West – says the problem facing wild horses stems from overpopulation aggravated by severe drought. The region is home to roughly 67,000 wild horses.
“You're always going to have drought issues. That's a common thing out on the range,” agency spokesman Jason Lutterman said. “What really exacerbates things is when we're already over population, because then you already have resource issues.”
The agency's emergency roundup in western Utah began a week ago, aiming to remove roughly 250 wild horses from a population of approximately 670. The operation is expected to take several weeks.
Once the horses are rounded up, the government gives them veterinary treatment and offers them for sale or adoption. Those that aren't sold or adopted are transferred to privately contracted corrals and pastures for the long term.
A similar emergency roundup began this month in central Nevada, where officials said some horses in a herd of 2,100 could die from lack of water in coming weeks. The operation was quickly halted, ironically because of extreme rain, but will likely resume.
“The ground's so dry it's not absorbing that water. It's running off,” bureau spokes
Wild horse advocates have balked at the Bureau of Land Management's insistence that wild horse populations are too high. Critics say the agency is using dry conditions as a smoke screen to shrink horse populations in response to pressure from ranchers whose livestock compete with the horses for grazing land.
“I do have a concern about the larger numbers that they're pulling off, and then a bigger concern about the BLM under this administration using all kinds of excuses to pull off horses,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, an advocacy organization.
The agency is prohibited from euthanizing the wild horses it rounds up, though President Donald Trump has proposed allowing the animals to be killed or sold for slaughter.
Heat warning issued for Southwest
An excessive heat warning was issued for a broad swath of the southwestern U.S. on Monday with temperatures expected to approach 120 degrees this week in what forecasters are saying could prove to be the hottest days of the year.
The National Weather Service said southern Arizona will experience temperatures from 112 to 119 degrees through Wednesday. That heat warning extended to parts of Southern California, including desert communities such as El Centro, Palm Springs, Twentynine Palms and Blythe, as well as north to Vegas and other parts of Nevada.
Parts of Utah were also issued an excessive heat warning with temperatures this week expected to approach 109 degrees.
Japan experiences hottest day
Japan recorded its highest temperature ever Monday as a deadly heat wave continued to grip a wide swath of the country and nearby South and North Korea.
The mercury hit 106 degrees (41 degrees Celsius) in Kumagaya, a city in Saitama prefecture about 40 miles northwest of Tokyo, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. That broke the previous record of 41.0 C in Ekawasaki on the island of Shikoku on Aug. 12, 2013.
Two lingering high pressure systems have trapped warm and humid air above the region, bringing record-high temperatures for nearly two weeks. More than 40 people have died in Japan and about 10 in South Korea.