Wild Horses Belong to the American PeopleJune 3, 2021
Wild Horse Groups and Advocate Sue the Department of the Interior to Stop Incentive Program Leading to Slaughter of Wild HorsesJuly 8, 2021
I am delighted to host this post by Angelique Rea, an adventurous spirit who has been following and documenting the wild horses of the Red Desert Complex for the past 10 years. Carol
Mustangs & the Red Desert Range
By Guest Blogger Angelique Rea
This is going to be a really boring blog… but we want you to be able to defend against those making claims of poor mustang range conditions, so here goes!
I have been observing and photographing wild horses for 10yrs, and started documenting range conditions a few years ago when those advocating the removal of our wild horses claimed horses were degrading the range, that the range was in terrible condition due to drought, or some combination of those two things, and the horses would starve if not removed!
Our focus today is on current conditions in Stewart Creek and Lost Creek HMAs – both of these HMAs were part of the Red Desert Complex roundup last fall, as a result there is a small herd of about 160 horses currently in Stewart Creek HMA, and a depressingly small herd of about 70 mustangs in Lost Creek HMA (assuming addition of new foals to the herds since last year).
Stewart Creek is an interesting and diverse HMA as it is effectively divided by a high ridge called Bull Springs Rim, on the east side under this rim is an area filled with sandy hills and soda ash dirt – dirt that is super ‘fun’ when muddy, but holds water fairly well in small ponds or lakes, these water holes are fed by snow melt, heavy rains, and at least one of these springs is warm water and runs year round, including through winter. This eastern end of the HMA is an area of extremes that is either very rich in water, or very poor, often it is barren and brown, and only the horses know where they are getting their forage and water, but they do! This year is an exceptionally good year, it is wonderfully green, and most of the ponds and small lakes have water…. a small part of this area has beaver ponds (yes – beaver ponds), which help to supply water into the summer and fall months, below those ponds are man-made ponds, all are used by cattle, wildlife, and mustangs. As we cross to the western side of Bull Springs Rim the terrain changes, high along the ridge it is pretty dang rocky, the grass tends to be short and sparse, with little or no sagebrush. As you travel down from the top and into better soil the grasses grow thicker and somewhat taller, not lush, but it is the desert after all, not an irrigated pasture! The sage is also taller, denser, and offers shelter to other species such as sage grouse. Along the western side of the rim there are varying types of water sources… some man-made ponds that typically are good in early spring, and a few water tanks typically turned on only when cattle are turned out on the range, there are a few natural springs around for the horse and wildlife when cows are not on the range.
Lost Creek does not have as big a variation in terrain as its sister HMA, it is primarily open and rolling hills, and tends to be drier year around, getting less snow than most other HMAs in the Red Desert Complex – this means the vegetation is rarely lush and green more than a month or two out of the year…. except for around the Lost Creek drainage. The grasses are generally shorter or stubbier with only a few areas growing taller than a few inches – sage and rabbit brush grow normally throughout the HMA. Water in this HMA is found most easily along Lost Creek drainage, which flows surprisingly strong through summer and fall, there are a few small ponds that can be used, normally in spring… and of course there are water tanks dispersed every few miles that run almost exclusively when cattle are turned out on the range.
And now I am going to get really boring…. really – it can get more boring!?!
Grass and forage – why does it look so brown and desolate already?? Because – because last year’s grass is still standing tall, and in some places a bit taller than this year’s new growth, it was not grazed down last year, or flattened by a heavy snow, so it is still a part of today’s landscape images! Also creating the image of brown and dead is last year’s sage bloom stalks above the new sage leaves, not dead because of drought, simply not gone from last year!
Some questions you may have, and we definitely have, why can’t the water tanks be turned on if there is a shortage of water on the range? As we have noted, when cows are out they turn them on… we know that when they pull the cows it is a time of year the tanks have to be turned off to avoid freezing and breaking of equipment – as to why we cannot turn them on in summer regardless of presence of cows – good question!! We are on a mission to find that out….
Thank you for sticking with us through this report and remember, the desert is exactly that…. a desert! By nature it is a dry and arid land, it normally dries out early, only exceptionally heavy winters or wet springs will keep it very green after June… the storms over the last few days occur with more frequency than most people realize, runoff helps to refill water holes, and the moisture will refresh forage. Our wild mustangs are healthy and happy, they are muddy from rolling in the water holes, and they remind us constantly of what real freedom is – untouched and uncontrolled by the touch of a man.