Where Wild Horse Herd Management Excels
The captivating beauty of the Spring Creek Basin in Colorado sets the stage for successful wild horse herd management. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) works diligently in collaboration with partner organizations to maintain the herd populations while keeping the rangelands healthy.
In Spring Creek Basin, the BLM and Spring Creek Basin Mustangs have implemented breeding control darting efforts and funded water infrastructure. These initiatives have led to a stable population of 71 wild horses, which falls within the appropriate management level range of 50-80 horses.
The importance of managing herds within reasonable levels cannot be overstated. By raising the appropriate management level in the area in 2020 due to successful breeding control programs, the BLM has been able to avoid horse gatherings since 2011. This approach ensures the well-being of the horses and the sustainability of the rangelands.
Recognizing the need for expansion on these successes, the BLM’s Colorado Office is now focusing on the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area in Northwest Colorado. The population in Sand Wash currently stands at around 300 horses, which exceeds the appropriate management level range of 163-363 horses. This increase in population was caused by challenging winter conditions that resulted in the loss of wild horses and big game.
To address this situation, the BLM has committed over $600,000 to infrastructure development in the Sand Wash Basin. Partner organizations, such as the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horse Advocate Team and the Colorado Wild Horse Project, will work alongside the BLM to provide support for wild horses. The goal is to invest in range improvement and reproductive control to maintain populations within the appropriate management level range. If the population exceeds the upper limit in the future, a small number of horses will be collected through fixed baiting stations, with the help of partner organizations like Meeker Mustang Makeover and The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
Another success story in herd management can be found in the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area near Grand Junction. The Friends of the Mustangs, a partner organization, pioneered fertility control darting for wild horses, inspiring similar efforts in other states. Despite a population of 230 horses, well above the appropriate management level of 90-150 horses, the BLM and its partners continue to find ways to maintain a healthy balance.
However, challenges persist in the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area, where the population exceeds 800 horses. This is dramatically higher than the appropriate management level range of 135-235 horses. The BLM has awarded $120,620 to the Piceance Mustangs for breeding control efforts, but gatherings will be necessary to restore and maintain an appropriate management level.
While breeding control is a significant aspect of the BLM’s strategy, it is not the sole solution. The size and population of certain herd management areas make regular gatherings necessary, even if the population is within the appropriate management level range. In these cases, efforts to manage effective breeding control become extremely challenging due to the vastness of the landscape.
Addressing common misconceptions about wild horse management is crucial. For example, the 2023 West Douglas gathering received extensive media coverage. Yet, the BLM and its contractors ensured the safety of the wild horses during the gathering, with zero horse deaths attributed to the operation.
Furthermore, blaming livestock for overgrazing in Colorado’s herd management areas is misguided. In Spring Creek Basin and Little Book Cliffs, where there is no livestock grazing, healthy rangelands are a testament to this fact. In the Sand Wash Basin and Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Areas, livestock pastures contribute to only 14% and 20% of grass usage, respectively. Livestock grazing is seasonal, while wildlife and wild horses are year-round residents.
It’s important to note that BLM staff deeply care for the herds of wild horses they manage. These majestic animals are a privilege to work with, and the BLM aims to ensure their long-term success, along with the preservation of their rugged homelands.
Though other states face even greater challenges in wild horse management, Colorado presents a unique opportunity for sustainability in its four herd management areas. The BLM is eager to collaborate with the governor, state agencies, partner organizations, and other stakeholders as the Colorado Wild Horse Project launches this fall.
With collective effort and dedication, any difficulties that arise can be overcome, and Colorado’s wild horse program can serve as a model of success nationwide. In the meantime, everyone is encouraged to revel in the breathtaking sunsets of the Spring Creek Basin and witness the serenity of healthy horses on thriving rangelands.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
1. What is the appropriate management level for wild horse populations?
The appropriate management level for wild horse populations varies based on the specific herd management area. In Colorado’s Spring Creek Basin, the range is set at 50-80 horses, while other areas have different thresholds based on factors like available resources and environmental conditions.
2. How does breeding control darting work?
Breeding control darting involves the use of darts containing contraceptives to regulate the reproduction of wild horses. This method helps prevent overpopulation and allows for a more sustainable wild horse population.
3. Why are horse gatherings necessary to maintain appropriate management levels?
Horse gatherings are sometimes necessary to maintain appropriate management levels, especially in areas with large populations and vast landscapes. Breeding control may not suffice in these cases, and gathering a small number of horses ensures the long-term success of the population and the preservation of the ecosystem.
4. Are livestock to blame for overgrazing in herd management areas?
No, livestock grazing is not solely responsible for overgrazing in herd management areas. In areas like Spring Creek Basin and Little Book Cliffs, where there is no livestock grazing, the rangelands remain healthy. Livestock pastures in other areas contribute only a small percentage to grass usage, and their grazing is seasonal.
5. How can the public support wild horse management efforts?
The public can support wild horse management efforts by staying informed, volunteering with partner organizations, and advocating for sustainable practices. Supporting initiatives like the Colorado Wild Horse Project and partnering with organizations that provide new homes for excess horses can also make a positive impact.