Last week I headed to Rock Springs, Wyoming so that I could spend time with two wild horse herds that the Bureau of Land Management plans to decimate this summer: White Mountain and Great Divide Basin. It had been 4 years since I had visited these two herd areas, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Knowing that the White Mountain Roundup is planned for the beginning of July, I have been very concerned about this being during the height of foaling season, putting young foals and very pregnant mares at risk of injury and death. Sure enough, at the very end of May I saw very few foals and many heavily pregnant mares, so there is no possible way that the BLM can convince me that there will not be still many heavily pregnant mares and many 1 month old or younger foals at the time of the roundup. The Wyoming BLM has always said they do not roundup during foaling season – this year is obviously an exception.
My first day at White Mountain I went to the more remote part of the herd area, where there had been hundreds of horses 4 years ago, and only saw one horse. When I headed back through the more accessible “loop tour” area I saw about 50 horses, in 12 different bands – but very few foals. The horses in this area area used to visitors, and were not concerned about my presence.
When I went back 2 days later, I happened to stop at the bottom of a gully, and had the amazing experience of watching about 50 horses run straight toward me. I figured out as they passed behind my care then stopped about 100 yards afterward that there was a waterhole there.
There were bays and paints and sorrels, blacks, roans, and again, very few foals but one cheeky filly who was having a wonderful time running away from her father, the band stallion.
He finally brought her and her mother back to the rest of his band, and all the horses dispersed into their family bands and went in different directions after drinking.
The other area I visited was Great Divide Basin, and this herd management area is almost 3/4 of a million acres. The plan is to roundup and remove 1225 horses from this area this summer. They also plan to use fertility control on the mares and adjust the sex ratio of the remaining horses to 60% stallions and 40% mares.
The area is vast, and the roads are few. I spent 2 1/2 days driving the roads looking for horses, and was able to get close to about 6 bands, and saw a large group of approximately 70 horses in about 10 or more bands at a far distance through binoculars. Again, I saw very few foals – meaning foaling season has not yet hit its peak at the end of May.
One thing that is apparent from visiting these herd areas is that Wyoming is not in a drought. The herd areas are greener than I have ever seen them, and water is plentiful. So are cattle. If I had gone with the purpose of photographing cattle, I would have been very successful.
When I looked at the weather forecast for the next several days, I decided to leave and go to the Adobe Town Herd Area, my first trip since the roundup and removal of 2100 horses last October and November. I went first to the area where my favorite little band hangs out. They were lucky enough to have missed being captured, and they were still there, and the palomino colt has become a stunning yearling. There were also hundreds of cattle.
I continued on to the little valley where I had spent time with many bands of horses before the roundup. I was excited to see fresh signs of horses as I drove – the stud piles along the road are a sure sign that horses are in the area.
I first saw a band near an oil and gas pad, and several of them were lying down taking a nap. There were several mares, one foal, and curiously, two stallions. The colors of horses in this area a re very distinct from the White Mountain and Divide Basin horses – here there is a predominance of grays. When I got out of may car with my camera, and old gray stallion who was nearby started snorting. And snorting, and snorting. He was making sure that no one missed my presence in the area. It was funny, except he got all the horses in that band up and running away. I continued driving, and saw what I thought were family bands. As I stopped and got my binoculars out, I started realizing that these were not families that included a stallion, mares, foals and youngsters, but these were in fact small groups of bachelor stallions.
There were many stallions by themselves, I counted 12, and at least 8 groups of 3 or more bachelors. There was a distinctive group of 3 pure white stallions who were grazing together who captured my attention. These stallions were at least 10 years old – and yet no mares.
Then I saw a young 4 year old stallion with one mare and a foal. The mare looked very nervous, as well she might. Normally a stallion his age would never have a chance having a mare, but with the disruption of the roundup, somehow he had one that he was not looking after very closely.
As another young stallion approached, instead of challenging him, the young stud started playing with him as the mare moved further and further away. He finally realized she was moving off, and chased her back. I do not imagine that he will keep her for very long, and she and the baby will suffer for his inexperience and for the overwhelming lack of mares in the area.
Over 2 days I drove through 1/3 of the Adobe Town Herd Management area, and kept seeing more and more bachelor stallions. A weather front moved in, making roads impassable, so I headed home with a heavy heart. Small consolation that the area is so green this year – I kept thinking about how those 2100 horses in holding facilities would have loved all that green grass. And I remember a conversation I had with a BLM staff member 4 years ago before the 2007 Salt Wells roundup. He said “In 4 years Carol, there will be just as many horses, it will all be the same as it was.” But it is not, and it never will be.
The Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek mares that were returned to the herd areas after the roundup were all treated with birth control. The sex ratio of the herds were skewed, with the EA suggesting 60% stallions to 40% mares, but the actual numbers once the horses were released worked out to about 66% stallions and 33% mares. This crude, untested, overkill method of birth control rips the very fabric of wild horse society into shreds. Family is the foundation of wild horse society, and producing an overabundance of stallions will lead to fighting and strife for the stallions and stress and instability for mares and foals. It will also make the herd unable to sustain genetic viability in the longer term. This is what they propose to do to the White Mountain, Little Colorado and Great Divide Basin Herds.
There is still time to make your feelings known to the BLM about their proposal for Great Divide Basin. Here is the link to the Environmental Assessment and the address to send your comments – please comment by June 20: http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/news_room/2011/may/18rsfo-divide.html
Here is a new link posted by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign where you can take action quickly:
The wild horses of Wyoming are depending upon you.