Mustang Center supports limited gathers

The Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center has responded to the Bureau of Land Management’s call for public input on a proposed 2012 wild horse gather within the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, seeking incremental reduction in the herd over time to meet population goals.

The foal Limerick enjoys a sunny day atop the Pryor Mountains in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range recently. Limerick is the daughter of Ireland.

Addressed Aug. 22 to BLM Billings Field Office Manager Jim Sparks, the letter was signed by PMWMC President John Nickle and Director Lori Graham after the scoping issue was discussed in detail by the wild mustang center board of directors.

In the letter, the PMWMC board agreed that the Pryor Mountain wild horses must be managed “to allow for a healthy balance between the range and the herd,” adding, “We have recommendations on how we feel this should best occur.”

The wild horse herd is in a period of transition, the letter states, pointing out that the areas used by the horses have changed due to the reconstruction of the northern boundary fence and the installation of water developments on the range. The herd also went through in 2009 the largest gather since the creation of the range, and a new fertility control program was just implemented this year.

“We are very supportive of many of the new management strategies being implemented on the Range, and we feel that these strategies will allow for the long-term conservation of the range and its home,” the letter continues.

The mustang center recommends that the horse population be moved slowly toward the appropriate management level of 120 called for in the herd management plan through a series of smaller gathers, recommending that no more than 10 horses be removed annually in a series of gathers.

“These horses should be chosen through careful evaluation of such criteria as age and kinship,” the board wrote, adding, “We recommend that only 1-3-year-olds that are from well-represented bloodlines be removed.”

The center will continue to work with the BLM on the selection process, the board wrote, providing information on herd demographics and individual horses to allow the best decisions to occur.

“Decisions on exact horse numbers to be removed should be based on current population estimates as well as forecasts for the population in the future,” the board wrote. “The horse population has the potential to move toward the appropriate management level without a gather due to at least two different events.”

Two factors could reduce the need for future roundups, the board wrote: the newly implemented fertility program, which could “at least lead to the stabilization of the herd’s size due to a significantly lower foal crop” and the potential for a future die-off of the many older animals on the range, especially mares.

“We still have the winter to go and only 16 foals were born this year,” Center Director Graham said. “Let’s see what happens over the winter and see how the PZP (fertility) treatments work and see how the water catchments work.

The board also recommends that future gathers use bait trapping as was done during the Fall 2008 gather, rather than water trapping or herding.

“We believe that this style of gathering (bait trapping) would be the least intrusive and have the least amount of risk for the horses,” the letter states.

Graham pointed out that the BLM is simply engaging in early scoping at this stage and that a final decision will be made much later.

“They’re getting opinions from interested parties, horse advocates, etc.,” she said. “It’s nothing permanent at this stage.

Former director and current board member Matt Dillon agreed, calling the current process in a recent interview “like an advanced comment period to determine alternatives.”

In an August 2 press release, the BLM stated that the scoping process is the initial stage in developing and environmental assessment.

The deadline for public comments is next Tuesday, Aug. 30.

By David Peck