You might be asking yourself, “what on earth could be good about roundups?” Well, I agree with you – just about nothing but sometimes there are kernels of good news mixed in with the bad. One reason I do attend roundups is I can usually learn some things I never would have without that opportunity to observe and ask questions of contractor, BLM Field Managers, and whoever else turns up to observe. The first Wyoming roundup I attended this fall was in the Antelope Hills Herd Area, part of the Red Desert Complex. I was incredulous when I heard that the Green Mountain roundup had been interrupted because the hunters were livid about the helicopter interrupting the last few days of hunting season – they did the seeming impossible and stopped a roundup!
The Wild Horse Expert for this area is Scott Fluer, and he knows the herds in his area very well, the different characteristics of the different herds, who stay in their territories even though no fences separate the Antelope Hills, Crooks Mountain and Green Mountain Herds. He spoke to me about the use of birth control, pzp and said he is very pleased with the progress, seeing birth rates in the herds drop from 20 – 25% in the area to now between 10 – 14%. His goal is to get the birth rate at about 10 – 12% and to reduce the need for helicopter roundups. There is an article on this in the Billings Gazette: http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming/article_2027fed0-f282-5311-87f6-570dbd7d93e0.html
Now if there is anything Scott and I could agree on, it would reducing helicopter roundups! I would go further and say they should be eliminated and the herd managed using bait and water trapping. Scott was also enthusiastic about a new form of pzp that would allow more years to go by without treatment – the current form of the drug only lasts 2 years. When I voiced my concern about mares becoming permanently sterilized with these experimental drugs, he said “we don’t catch them all.”
At the roundup of the 3 herd areas, 580 horses were rounded up, 234 released with all the released mares being treated with pzp. There were 6 deaths.
Even the areas where I differ in my ideas about how wild horse herds should be managed, I was encouraged by my interactions with Scott. He is not trying to eliminate the wild horses entirely from these areas. This is where he differs from the Rock Springs Field Office, but there is no checkerboard here, and that will be in my next post.
The day I was at the roundup it seemed like I drove forever to get there. Barren, windswept hills were all I could see for miles on the approach to the trap. I was the only observer from the public.
I had a very good site to observe the horses coming in and going into the trap, on the next hill. The wind blew and blew, and I watched as a huge group of horses were herded toward the trap. They wheeled and turned as a group, and it would have been a beautiful sight had the horses not been running in fear from the helicopter.
Once they started loading the horses, suddenly I saw a black stallion who had leaped out from the ramp, and was now free. he called out to his family, and then wisely vanished.
All of the next group went into the trap smoothly, and the helicopters take off again. The Cattoors are the contractors here and the last 2 years they have been using 2 helicopters in Wyoming, saying it saves time.
The next group to come in was a band with a buckskin stallion and a precious buckskin colt. The stallion was gorgeous and proud, tossing his head and I was immediately enchanted by him. He knew what was happening, and fought to evade the helicopter, turning away from the trap again and again.
He put up a bold fight, but ultimately the helicopter won, and he and his family were driven into the trap.
I was watching the loading, after the horses were in the pens, and most horses would have to be driven up the long ramp into the dark truck with plastic bags on sticks. Not this stallion – he bravely charged up the ramp. I thought, of any of these horses, he would make a horrible candidate for captivity – he belongs out here, wild like the wind.
All of the horses caught were transported to a temporary holding facility in Baroil where the mares to be treated with pzp would be treated and the horses to be released would be separated from the horses to be shipped, who would be losing their freedom forever. I was very sad to see the buckskin stallion in the pen with those horses to be shipped. Of course, I don’t want ANY of these horses to lose their freedom, but sometimes there is one horse that captivates you with their heart and spirit.
Two days later I got an email that he had been released. That absolutely made my day.