Pryor horse-management plan stalled

Posted 7/30/09

In the wake of the Cloud Foundation's challenge of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's horse-management plan, no range improvements will be implemented until a federal appellate review makes a decision.

However, maintaining 120 horses will …

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Pryor horse-management plan stalled


Summer horse roundup still onA proposal to increase the Pryor Mountain wild horse herd to 90 to 120 horses for five years after a roundup this summer and to improve the horses' range has been stalled by an appeal from a horse conservation group.

In the wake of the Cloud Foundation's challenge of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's horse-management plan, no range improvements will be implemented until a federal appellate review makes a decision.

However, maintaining 120 horses will remain in the plan because Jared Bybee, wild horse and burro specialist at the Billings office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said that number can achieve a “thriving ecological balance.”

“We appealed the BLM horse management plan because we don't believe the appropriate management level is the number that will allow for a self-sustaining herd,” Cloud Foundation Executive Director Ginger Kathrens said.

To ensure the equines' genetic viability and Spanish pedigree, the minimum number should be 65 in the breeding population, which means a total of 195 horses. In the short term, it should be 50 horses capable of breeding, which equals a total of 150 equines of all ages. Kathrens said in the long term, 200 to 300 total horses of all ages and sexes would ensure the rare Spanish blood.

About 190 horses roam the Pryors now. That number will be reduced by at least 70 after the fall roundup, which will be conducted by helicopter.

Kathrens has completed documentaries on Pryor wild horses and is working on a horse documentary right now.

The Colorado Springs, Colo., foundation, dedicated to the preservation of wild horses, is named after a Pryor stallion.

The foundation also is appealing repairs to fences that separate Custer National Forest from bureau land that encloses the herd area. Kathrens said the horses have kicked down the fence because they have been using the area beyond the fencing for 200 years.

Under the May horse-management plan, water sources would be developed, riparian areas would be protected and wildlife habitat improved.

The plan called for adding eight guzzlers in the mid-level range — tanks that capture and store precipitation to allow wildlife to drink it for extended periods — to complement the one existing guzzler there.

The horses don't linger where grazing is better. They move from the overgrazed lower stretches to overgraze the top when the snow melts, Bybee said. If guzzlers were installed in the middle of the mountain where forage is better, Bybee said he hopes the water would encourage the horses to stick around longer.

Kathrens' appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals under the U.S. Department of Interior, puts the May plan on hold, including installing more guzzlers and improving the habitat, said Bybee.

“It's hard to believe an advocacy group would stop that type of work,” Bybee said.

“The intent of our appeal was not to halt range improvements,” Kathrens said.

Kathrens said the range has recovered in the last two years, thanks to increased precipitation.

“It's a really big mess right now due to this litigation,” said Matt Dillon who runs the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center in Lovell.

Due to the confines of the 39,000-acre range, allowing the horses to cohabit naturally is not the answer, Dillon said.

“We're not sure that's the best idea here,” Dillon said.

Around 33,000 wild horses from roundups now reside in western bureau holding facilities because the agency is unable to dispose of the overstock through adoption.

The 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act was enacted to care for wild horses, but now the bureau is stuck with thousands of horses.

“Nobody really planned for that,” Dillon said.

Although the Pryor horses are popular, Dillon fears in today's market, those horses will not be adopted and will spend their days in federal internment.

“That is one of the reasons we support fertility control is to keep the Pryor horses away from that mess,” Dillon said.

The Mustang Center supports aggressive fertility control and fewer gathers, Dillon said.

The last Pryor roundup occurred in 2006, with the collection of 22 horses.

Kathrens said the foundation would support gathers of 20 horses or less if those equines were yearlings or 2-year-olds.

The current horse range is roughly 38,000 acres. Kathrens would like to see that range nearly doubled.

Kathrens said she believes she eventually will win because taxpayers, who love the horses, will support range expansion and will pressure politicians and bureaucrats, whose salaries are paid by the public.

“I think we will eventually accomplish it,” Kathrens said. “I just don't know how long it will take.”

(Editor's note: Another story about the Pryor Mountain wild horse herd will appear in the Tribune next week.)