Wyo wild horse gathers continue, Mont contestedWritten by Christy Hemken
“We’re starting to gather Oct. 15 in the McCullough Peak area, then Oct. 21 we’ll be in the 15-mile area and Oct. 30 in the Red Desert area, which includes five HMA’s (Herd Management Ares),” says Wyoming BLM Public Affairs Specialist Cindy Wertz.
The agency plans to gather 1,614 horses altogether, 1,162 of which will be removed from the range. “Some of the mares will be treated with contraceptives,” says Wertz, adding the remainder of the removed horses will go to the Rock Springs corrals first, then on to the Honor Farm near Riverton, the Mantle Ranch near Wheatland or to other adoption facilities in other states.
In Montana, however, there have been wild horse advocacy groups that have insisted the Montana BLM not gather and pare down their one herd of wild horses in the Pryor Mountains. The scheduled Sept. 1 roundup was delayed after wild horse advocates sought a temporary restraining order to stop their removal.
Despite the case filed in court in Washington, D.C., U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan denied the restraining order, allowing the gather to take place.
“We’re very disappointed. It’s a very complicated case, but we believed we had a chance and gave it a great shot,” says Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Cloud Foundation, which was a part of the effort to gain a restraining order. The Pryor Mountain horses were the subjects of documentary films produced by Kathrens.
“The judge found in BLM’s favor that we could go ahead with our gather,” says Montana BLM spokesperson Mary Apple, adding the gather began Sept. 3 instead.
The advocacy groups had argued that a gather of the Pryor Mountain herd would lower its genetic viability.
“The main reason we’re doing the gather is because the vegetative resources in the area are being degraded by that number of horses,” says Apple, adding that it’s the winter range that limits herd size. “There’s not enough range out there for 190 horses.”
“Our mandate is to manage for healthy horses on healthy rangelands, and right now the rangelands just aren’t healthy,” says Apple. “There’s a lot of talk on the blogs that there have been over three seasons of above average precipitation on the horses’ range, but we’ve got the rainfall records and the opposite is true. It’s had below normal rainfall, and there’s a five-inch deficit out there right now.”
“The size of the herd prior to the gather was 190 head, and we were going to bring in the entire herd, administer contraceptive to most of the mares and turn them back out,” she continues.
However, because part of the herd had begun to roam on remote Forest Service lands they were unable to locate the entire herd. Of the 39 on Forest land, Apple says they were able to gather 28.
“Some of the horses have been living off range on the Forest land, and the Forest Service has asked us to remove them,” says Apple of another aspect of the gather. “The horses aren’t supposed to be there, and the Forest Service doesn’t manage wild horses.”
She says that was another area of contention with the gather – advocacy groups didn’t want the horses taken from the Forest lands.
“We didn’t get the whole herd, but we did gather quite a few and kept 57 back for the adoption this Saturday,” she says of the Sept. 26 event.
Because of wild horses running on Forest allotments, the Forest Service had to suspend livestock grazing from a Wyoming producer. Because of that, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture came out in support of the gather, as well as the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Two mare/foal pairs were held from release back to the range because of poor condition on the foals. “The supposition is the mares didn’t have sufficient nutrition up there,” says Apple. “There are weeds, but not nutritious forage. Some of the mares that came in hardly had any bags, and the foals were pretty thin.”
One retained pair was released Sept. 22, and the other is going into the adoption, where it will join two other pairs.
The Pryor Mountain herd’s current management plan dating back to the 1990s specifies the area can support 95 to 110 head of horses. “The new herd management plan written last summer raised the number to 120, and that’s what we were gathering for in this last gather,” says Apple.
However, the Cloud Foundation is also appealing that new herd management plan, which can’t go forward until the appeal is settled one way or another. Apple says the new plan also includes water developments on the herd’s mid-range, which isn’t currently utilized as much as the upper and lower ranges for lack of water.
“We can’t implement the water developments yet because if the decision on the plan’s appeal goes against us, we’d have to take them out,” notes Apple.
Of the Sept. 26 National Wild Horse Adoption Day event, Apple says she hopes members of the wild horse advocacy groups will show up to adopt the wild horses.