BLM wild horse gather expected this summer

The Bureau of Land Management has released its final Environmental Assessment (EA) for a 2012 non-helicopter gather of wild horses within the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. The report analyzes the effects of a non-helicopter gather to remove excess wild horses within the wild horse range. The BLM field office received about 1,000 individual comment letters and 63 unique comments on the preliminary EA, and considered those in making the final decision to remove the excess number of horses from the herd.

One of the wild horses from the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range grazing near the entrance to the range last winter. Wild horse advocates have named this young stallion Jesse James. He is the little brother of Kapitan, one of the stallions who was killed tragically on the highway last summer. Patti Carpenter photo

Methods used to remove the horses will include bait trapping, water trapping, herding or a combination of these techniques. Only horses under 3 years old will be targeted for removal. Consideration will be given to genetic factors that could impact the overall well being of the herd. None of the horses gathered will be intentionally harmed or sold to slaughter. The gather is expected to begin sometime after June and will take place over a period of time in a variety of locations within the wild horse range.

“Obviously, there are a lot of feelings that emerge about such an action. Gathers are always difficult. This especially holds true here, in the Pryors, when we get to know individual horses as well as friends,” wrote wild horse advocate Matt Dillon on his blog the day the report was released.

Dillon is the former director of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center in Lovell. The group monitors the humane treatment of the horses and maintains a meticulous record of their gene pool. Some evidence indicates that this particular herd maintains a fairly pure bloodline that dates back to the horses of early Spanish conquistadors. Dillon and other wild horse aficionados support the preservation of this bloodline.

According to a recent Bureau of Land Management census, 150 adult horses and 17 of their foals currently live on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Based on previous research conducted by the BLM, this is at least 30 horses more than ideal number or AML (Appropriate Management Level) to support both a healthy range and a healthy herd, which according to BLM studies is 90-120 adult horses, excluding the foals. According to information released by the BLM up to 50 horses may be removed in the upcoming gather in an effort to maintain an optimal herd size.

“I think it is important for management decisions to be based on science,” said Dillon. “The current AML is based on a scientific method of determining the carrying capacity of the range, and so it is difficult to argue with it. Obviously, we’d like to see more horses out there. I think we will see an increase in AML in the future that reflects all of the work being done on the range.”

According to information released by the BLM, the proposed gather is necessary to achieve a thriving natural ecological balance and maintain multiple use relationships, including a variety of resources and uses, such as wildlife, wilderness values, recreation, cultural values, as well as wild horses on the range over the next several years. Vegetation monitoring data shows the PMWHR does not have the capacity to sustain the current wild horse population over the long term with their current use patterns on healthy rangelands.

The BLM does not sell any horses to slaughterhouses or so-called “killer buyers.” Any excess wild horses will be offered for adoption only to qualified BLM-approved adopters. Before the adoption, the horses will be examined by veterinarians, freeze-marked and vaccinated. Due to the nature of this gather, the adoptions could be carried out as several small events or one large event, depending on the gather efficacy. Adoption will be announced as the gather progresses and the public will be notified at least two to three weeks prior to the adoptions.

The BLM is charged with the task of maintaining both the range and a healthy herd under the “The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.” Although not afforded the protections of “wildlife,” the horses are afforded certain protections under the law.

In an effort to reduce the number of gathers required in the future, the BLM has implemented a program of fertility control where certain mares are selected based on genetic factors to receive an annual birth control shot. The shot is administered by dart.

“I believe that this gather is a significant step toward a time when the removal of so many as 20 horses could be a rare event, a time when such a gather would be a rare event,” commented Dillon on his blog.  “Again, though, this is a very delicate time. The lack of a gather this year would certainly lead to a larger one next year.  To carry out such an action would be a serious setback to the hard work that has been done and the progress that has been made these past few years. I have great faith that this year’s gather plan reflects careful planning and that operations will be carried out safely and responsibly so that removed individuals and the herd’s future success are impacted as little as possible. Let us get through this year, and let us keep working toward a time when our goals can be realized.”

Many wild horse advocates like Dillon and the BLM hope that comprehensive fertility programs that are now in place, which administer a birth control shot periodically to carefully selected mares, will reduce the need for gathers in the future.

A 30-day appeal period to the decision is already in progress and will end on May 3, 2012. For more detailed information about the gather and a summary of public comments and a copy of the decision record go to

By Patti Carpenter