Two weeks ago I traveled a road that I have traveled every year since 2004, the road up to the top of the Pryor Mountains. My goal was to find and photograph Cloud’s herd.
But things are different this year. I drive up the road from Sage Creek Campgrounds, through the forest service lands, and where I would normally see wild horses, there are none. As I pass the beautiful wide open meadow where I saw Shaman’s band for the first time, in 2004, there are no horses. And then as I approach the boundary to the BLM managed Herd Area, I see the reason why – the new fence. This fence was built in October, costing the US taxpayer roughly $300,000. It cuts the Pryor Mountain Herd, the last wild horse herd in Montana, off from its historic late summer and fall grazing.
I am reminded of the new theme song for Wyoming Tourism that they have been using in commercials advertising coming to Wyoming and seeing running wild horses – “Don’t Fence Me In.” This is ironically as Wyoming and the BLM is mounting an eradication campaign for its wild horse herds. “Don’t Fence Me In” should really be the theme song for the Pryor Mountain Herd, because that fence spells death, destruction and devastation for these wild horses, at the hands of the agency charged with protecting them, the BLM.
When I first heard the plan proposed by the BLM to build this new heavy fence I was horrified. I could imagine the next step after building this fence and cutting the horses off from their familiar range that I have photographed them in every summer. Most likely the rest of the mountain that they would be confined to would see too much use, and then the BLM would have an excuse to say that there are too many horses, the range is suffering, we must remove them. This is exactly what has happened, and the BLM made its announcement of its scoping document before the horses have even had a chance to “degrade the range.”
Instead of negotiating with the Forest Service to allow the horses to continue to use these lands for their summer and fall range, as they had promised that they would, the BLM constructed this fence last fall, and now has issued a press release stating its intention to remove horses from the range next year, only 3 years after the last roundup where I witnessed 52 horses being removed from their families and their home.
Even though the BLM is using PZP for birth control of the mares, they are not allowing the drug any time to work, and help control the population – they have decided to go ahead and remove the horses anyway.
I noticed during my three days on the mountain that the horses were moving around much more than I was used to. This time of year, normally most of them would be in the Forest Service lands, and returning to the reservoir waterhole to drink. Instead they moved from one area to another, and the last evening I was there, many moved up and down the fence, not doubt not understanding why they could not move onto their normal range.
In this document issued by the BLM seeking “public input on a proposed 2012 wild horse gather within the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range” the BLM is saying that they will not use helicopters but bait trapping, water trapping and herding to round up and remove the horses. They state that the AML, the Appropriate Management Level of the herd is 90 – 120 horses, and that the current population of the Pryors Herd is 150 adults and 17 foals. Despite all of the research that states that 150 adults is the minimum population necessary to insure genetic viability for a wild horse herd, the BLM wants to reduce the numbers of this herd to 90 or 120 horses. Over time, this will destroy this herd.
And what about the young horses who will never be able to grow to maturity in their home in the Pryor Mountains? And what about the older horses who will be torn from the only home they have ever known?
What you can do to help is send your comments in by August 30th.
The BLM is only allowing mailed or faxed comments for this scoping document – they say that emails overwhelmed their system last time – isn’t that a sign that their system is outdated and that there is overwhelming opposition to their plans for this herd?
Here is the address:
Jim Sparks, Field Manager
Billings BLM Field Office
5001 Southgate Dr.
Billings, MT 59101
Be sure to include your name and address in the comments and here are some of the points that I would recommend including:
- AML of the herd needs to be increased to 150 – 200 in order to insure genetic viability of the herd
- The fence needs to be removed, the horses need to be allowed access to their historic summer and fall range
- Allow the PZP that has been administered to work and study the affects before planning another roundup
- Do not skew the sex ration of the herd favoring stallions – this is untested and can cause great disruption of the social fabric of the herd
- Do not plan to geld the stallions or spay the mares and release them back onto the range
- The No Action Alternative is the one that should be selected
Here is the Cloud Foundation’s post about writing comments for this scoping document:
And here are some Pryor Mountain Herd Facts from the Cloud Foundation to help you formulate your comments – remember to use your own words! And thank you very much for caring about the horses.
PRYOR FACTS FOR SCOPING INPUT 2011
16 AUGUST 2011
Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range (PMWHR) Facts:
1. The Pryor Wild Horse Herd has not grown from 2010 to 2011. Known mortality plus one removal roughly equals births. (14 versus 17)
2. 8 horses are currently missing and have not been seen this year. If these horses are not found, the population will have declined by at least 4% in 2011. The population including these missing horses is 165 (not including 17 foals). The population not including missing horses is 157.
3. Currently, there are 11 wild horses 20 years or older in the population, with the oldest being Trace’s grandmother who is 25 years young. (She looks like a million bucks, by the way.)
4. The herd has had no opportunity to become habituated to using water guzzlers put in by the BLM over the past 2 years. These guzzlers are designed to spread the use to under-utilized portions of the designated range.
5. PZP, the vetted, one-year, remotely delivered drug, has now been given to the majority of adult mares. It is probable that even fewer foals will be born in 2012 and 2013.
6. The BLM is proposing removals to reduce the herd to the genetically non-viable Appropriate Management Level (AML) of 90-120.
7. The Pryor Wild Horse Herd has not been below this level since 1977-1978 when nearly all the foals and old horses died over the winter.
8. The Billings BLM has proposed the introduction of wild horses including those from non-Pryor horses to mitigate genetic loss within the herd if needed. (p. 86—3.5 Mitigation Measures, Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Herd Mgmt. Area Plan, May 2009)
9. The BLM has criticized the introduction of wild horses from southern Wyoming and the Kiger Range in Oregon in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They contend that Cloud has an ancestor that came from the wilds of southern Wyoming. The BLM Field Office has threatened Cloud’s removal and that of his family as a result of this ancestor.*
10. Wild horses have been present in the Pryor Mountains for, at least, the past 205 years.
11. Wild horses were present in the Custer National Forest Service lands in 1971 when the WHB Act was passed.
12. Currently TCF has a lawsuit against both the BLM and the Custer National Forest challenging the low AML and the FS decision to ban the horses from vital summer and fall areas in the forest service lands. A 2 mile-long, wooden, buck and pole fence currently prohibits the wild horses from FS meadows atop the mountain.
Suggested scoping topics: (these must be in your own words or BLM will not count them)
1. Do not remove any Pryor Mustangs from the PMWHR. It is unnecessary due to high mortality and low foal production in 2011.
2. Continue with range improvements like reclamation of bait trap location from 2006 removal action and reseeding of target areas
3. Treat noxious and invasive non-native plants to improve the range.
4. Allow the horses to discover the new water guzzlers and begin using underutilized areas of the range.
5. Continue darting with 1-year, reversible PZP drug on selected adult mares at the appropriate time of year (late winter and early spring).
6. Work with Montana and Wyoming Fish and Game to reduce mountain lion hunting in the PMWHR and surrounding area.
7. Work with the Custer National Forest Service to legally expand the PMWHR to reflect the historic use area of the horses.
8. Raise the Appropriate Management Level to a number that ensures the continued genetic viability of this small, isolated herd. (i.e. 150-200 adults over 2 years of age).
9. Adopt management strategies, which will lead to the minimum feasible management as mandated by the 1971 Wild Horses and Burro Act. (i.e. natural management—predator/prey balance)
*BLM Field Manager, Jim Sparks, as reported in the Billings Gazette newspaper (October 23, 2010), said “the public needs to understand that if the BLM continues to protect Cloud and his progeny, that genetic influence (supposed southern Wyoming ancestor) will only grow stronger.” He is also quoted as saying “That could be part of the reason for more similarity to ranch horses and not Spanish horses,” Sparks said. He was referring to the general appearance of the Pryor Wild Horse Herd.