Wild horses

A helicopter chases a wild horse during Sand Wash Basin roundup Sept. 4. Documentary filmmaker James Anaquad Kleinert chronicled the historic roundup as part of his current 12-part series “Mustangs & Renegades,” which is available on YouTube and Vimeo. (Courtesy photo)

For award-winning documentary filmmaker James Anaquad Kleinert, highlighting the government’s continued, albeit questionable, efforts to round up wild horses has become his life’s work.

Most recently, Kleinert has been documenting the Sand Wash Basin roundup in Moffat County.

Beginning Sept. 1, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which conducts roundups of wild horses and burros, captured 684 horses before the San Wash Basin roundup ended earlier this week, though 50 were later released after a genetic analysis.

The BLM used helicopters to drive the horses into “trap zones.” Pressure from Governor Jared Polis — mainly his letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and BLM Deputy Director of Policy and Programs Nada Wolff Culver — helped stop the largest roundup in state history.

The BLM has previously stated that all captured horses will be put up for adoption through the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Incentive Program, which offers people up to $1,000.

“The goal of the program is to reduce BLM’s recurring costs to care for unadopted and untrained wild horses and burros while helping to enable the BLM to confront a growing over-population of wild horses and burros on fragile public rangelands,” according to the BLM website.

Kleinert recently covered the Sand Wash Basin roundup in showing how the herd is exhibiting strong signs of health, plenty of forage and water on the range, and “yet BLM is claiming there needs to be an ‘emergency’ roundup,” he explained.

Kleinert’s most recent documentary — “Mustangs & Renegades” — is a 12-part series looking at the wild horse roundups, including the past roundup efforts in Disappointment Valley.

“We did a small release of my book, ‘No Country For Truth Tellers’ in the fall 2019, and since that time we have used the book as our outline to produce ‘Mustangs & Renegades,’” Kleinert explained. “Back in 2011-12 Telluride locals may remember we released ‘Wild Horses & Renegades,’ which showed at the Palm Theater exposing the cover-up of the BLM roundup which was about to occur out in Disappointment Valley in the Spring Creek Herd Management Area. In Episode 3 of ‘Mustangs & Renegades,’ we show the events surrounding the brutal Spring Creek roundup, featuring local Telluride supporters.”

Viggo Mortensen, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Saginaw Grant and N. Scott Momaday are also featured in the series.

Most recently, Kleinert has been working with well-know wild horse biologist Craig Downer, who worked alongside Wild Horse Annie, the founder of the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

 In 2020, Downer and Kleinert sued the BLM for the Wyoming Red Desert roundup, exposing false data and statements by the BLM, Kleinert explained. Downer also recently did an assessment of the Spring Creek wild horses in Disappointment Valley and concluded that at the current use of the drug PZP, a controversial method used to sterilize captured horses, on the Spring Creek Wild Horses, the herd will die out in the next 10 years. All of that is covered in Episode 7 of “Mustangs & Renegades,” which is available on Vimeo and YouTube. Kleinert said the best way to keep up with the series is to sign up for both channels, as episodes will be released regularly moving forward and subscribers will be notified.

“I’m relieved to be finishing this important work, which I’ve been deeply engaged in for almost 20 years now,” he added.

In 2008, the BLM deemed wild horse and burro numbers exceeded “appropriate use” levels. The agency then began to roundup wild horses and burros (a protected species since 1971) across the West in order to place them in holding facilities.