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CHALLIS, Idaho — Dawn broke over the peaks of the Lost River Range, revealing a chase in the wide open valley below. Seven wild horses crashed through the sage, dark manes billowing in the golden light, pursued by a government contractor in a glossy helicopter that dodged left and right like a mechanical Border collie, driving the band forward into a hidden corral.

Within hours, the captured mustangs had been sorted, loaded onto trucks to be stamped with an identification number and sent to the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse storage system. And the helicopter was back out hounding the hills for more.

All over the West, similar scenes have played out as the federal government fights to control the number of wild horses roaming public lands. Managers say they need to keep the herds down so they don’t destroy delicate native species habitat and threaten the livelihoods of ranchers.

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