I just spent two days in the Pryor Mountains of Montana. Normally this time of year it is a beautiful and peaceful place to be. Most of the horses in the herd are up in the high meadows, foals are playing, and it is peaceful, especially in the early mornings, my favorite time to be out photographing them.
Not any more. Near the large reservoir water hole, there is a bait trap set up by the BLM in order to capture the 40 young horses they plan to remove from their homes and freedom forever. There are panels with mesh around them, two openings, and in the middle of the trap, goodies for the horses which can include mineral blocks, hay and other items that the horses tend to find irresistible.
There are also signs warning people to keep back 300 feet.
The very first thing I saw was scuffling and rearing and screaming, coming from Prince trying to keep other horses from coming into the trap.
In the course of the morning, I watched as 10 bands went in and around the trap stallions fought, chased each other and when in the trap, ate the goodies. Knowing that when the BLM personnel arrived, many of the young horses would be caught in this trap and be taken from their families was extremely depressing. I also worried that some of the horses could be seriously injured.
I watched as Cloud appeared from the trees with his family following him, and proceeded down to the trap. Most of the horses in the trap ran out the minute they saw him approach, but a couple ended up getting chased out before Cloud allowed his family inside. As I left, Cloud’s family had been in the trap at least an hour, and the BLM was on their way to start removing horses.
I knew that three members of Cloud’s family were on the list to be removed and as it turns out, this was Agate, Feldspar’s daughter’s last day of freedom.
When I returned the next morning, most of the horses were not in sight, but Cloud appeared next to the trap. His family stood next to the trap as he entered. Then I observed Cloud pace around in the trap. He did not stop to eat the goodies but kept smelling the ground, walking back and forth – I do believe he was searching for his lost family members, Breeze, Lynx and Agate. He only left the trap when his mares headed down the hill toward the water hole, and he ran to catch up with them, but kept looking back to the trap.
I had seen Cloud’s strong loyalty and devotion to his family and his drive to keep them together once before, at the roundup of 2009 when they released his band he kept driving them over and over back toward the corrals because he knew some of them were missing. The wranglers finally had to drive him away on horseback.
I went down to Britton Springs to observe the horses that had been captured and who will be available for adoption soon.
I want to be very clear. I am glad that they are not using a helicopter to round these horses up this year. Bait trapping is more humane and should be used as much as possible as an alternative to helicopter round ups.
However, I completely disagree that this removal of 40 young horses plus many foals is necessary, and I have maintained this since the Scoping document was published last year. This herd needs at least 150 adults to ensure its genetic viability. They are using birth control to maintain the population. Removing horses at the same time as using birth control makes no sense and spells trouble for this herd and for any other herd. The best possible solution would to be to tear down the fence cutting these horses off from their historical summer and fall range, and to continue the use of birth control ONLY to maintain the population.
Removing wild horses from their homes and their families and their freedom and keeping them in captivity, whether it be in short term holding, long term holding, or adopted is not the solution. Managing these herds in their herd management areas as the primary species in these areas is.
You can check the BLM website page for information on the removals, and they will also be posting information on the September 8 adoption at Britton Springs in Lovell for these young horses: