Last month, I was on top of the mountain spending an idyllic few days with Cloud’s herd in Montana. I have been making the trip twice a year up the mountain in the summertime every year since 2004, and it is one of the highlights of my year.
On this beautiful summer day, I was sitting at the waterhole near Penn’s cabin, waiting for horses to come down to drink. This is usually one of the best opportunities to observe and photograph wild horse behavior, because I can watch the families interact and the bands interact with each other. More senior stallions get priority, bringing their families down to the water first, and staying as long as they wish, before they move out and another band comes down. Some foals fun and play as they run to the water, and many horses roll in it to cool off.
I was not alone this day – Ginger Kathrens and her intern Briana Foisa were there, and so was Tony Wengert. After at least 12 bands came down to drink, we started to wonder where Cloud and his family were. I joked that Cloud might be waiting to make an entrance, something is good at doing. Finally we could see Cloud up on the hill, running over to a bachelor stallion, but he and his family did not come to drink. We had been waiting about 1 1/2 hours for him to come down at this point.
Suddenly Jan Liverance came running down the hill to us. She told us that she had spoken to a family from Lovell, who had come up for the day, and they said they had seen a colt, running up and down behind a fence, unable to get to his mother, who was running up and down on the other side of the fence calling to him. The family asked Jan if she knew anyone who could help the colt. We all jumped up and stowed our gear quickly, and headed for our vehicles.
We were not sure where this colt might be, so our first thought was the FENCE , the hated fence erected by the Forest Service, that cuts the wild horses in the Pryor Mountains off from their historic summer and fall range. We arrived there, and there were no horses in sight. Luckily, the family drove up to us just then and explained where they had see the colt. We headed back down the road, and stopped just above a barbed wire fence “exclosure,” and sure enough, there was a foal trapped inside, and it was Cloud and Feldspar’s baby.
He trotted up and down the fence, calling to his mother. As we approached, I saw Cloud chasing bachelor stallions away from his band, and finally moving his band away to keep them together.
This fence was falling down in places, old rusted barbed wire, and it became clear how a foal could take a nap near it and possibly roll under it, and find himself trapped when he got up.
The priority at that point was to get the foal out and back to his family. It was a holiday weekend, the BLM office was closed, and there was no cell service in the area anyway, so it was up to us to help him. With no access to water or to his mother, the foal would most likely die. We moved very quietly and slowly, not wanting to panic him and cause him to run into the barbed wire, and injure himself. At this point he was bright eyed and active, and watched us as we worked.
Finally Ginger and Tony and Bree got the bottom strands of the barbed wire pulled on top of the T- posts in a long enough area so that the foal might go underneath it and out of the trap. We watched and waited for him to move out of the exclosure. Finally he saw the opening, and ran out. But his adventure was not over at this point.
Cloud’s family was nowhere in sight, as he had had to move his family away from the bachelor stallions harassing him. The colt ran to the first family he saw, who happened to be Garcia’s band. Garcia began chasing him, and we were terrified that Garcia might hurt or even kill him, and helpless to do anything about it. Finally he stopped, and the colt saw Morningstar’s band. This family was a familiar sight, as Cloud and Morningstar’s families had been spending quite a bit of time near each other this last year.
He ran up, realized it was not his family, and then moved on, determined to find Feldspar. As he disappeared down the hill, I headed to my vehicle, and Ginger, Bree and Jan followed the colt, and Tony headed to find Cloud’s band. By the time I drove down the road, they had watched him come out on the hill above the waterhole, spot his mother, and carefully pick his way down the rocks to her, and then immediately begin nursing. He was finally reunited safely with his family.
We were all incredibly relieved. But this was not the first time a foal had become trapped in this “exclosure” and will not be the last unless it is removed. When I was up there last week, I was disgusted to see it still there, despite letters to Jared Bybee and Jim Sparks.
What is an “exclosure?” According to the BLM it is a historical reference for monitoring range conditions – in other words, they fence off a portion of the range, keep the horses off it, and then can compare to the range that the horses are using to see how the horses impact the range. But they are not using this exclosure any more. They use small, portable “utilization cages” to do studies and monitor range conditions. They said they have no plans to dismantle and remove this dangerous range hazard, despite the fact that it is just above one of the two main waterholes on the mountain, directly in the path of horses traveling to water, and also despite the fact that if foals get caught in there, they can die. Older horses and foals could become entangled in the downed barbed wire, or could impale themselves on the t-posts. If the BLM is not using this exclosure, then they need to remove it, barbed wire, posts and all. Why not remove it NOW before any other horses are harmed, and while they have trucks and equipment up on top of the mountain anyway for the bait trapping?
Please write or call Jim Sparks, Montana Field Manager, email@example.com
Phone: 406-896-5013, fax 406-896-5281
and Jared Bybee, Wild Horse and Burro Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ask them to tear down and remove this dangerous wild horse hazard. If enough people speak up, perhaps they will listen.
*News Flash! I just heard that the Billings BLM is going to have this exclosure fence removed, starting this Thursday!*
Thank you so much all of you who emailed and called – your voices did make a difference!