I have seen discussion and talked to many of you regarding the newly released gather plan that will lead to the removal of a number of younger Pryor Mountain Wild Horses this summer. 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.
That said, I do believe that this gather must happen based on my interpretation of a series of events that have unfolded in recent years. In 2008, an oft-forgotten gather plan was released. Taking place just two years after a small bait-trap gather, this plan was quite similar to both the 2006 and 2012 ones in strategy and in magnitude. However, due to certain circumstances, the gather was unable to proceed. As should be expected, the herd grew in size; and just over a year later, a new and much more known gather plan was released. In 2009, gather operations were carried out with a helicopter and professional crew; and, in the end, more horses were removed than had been in any year since the modern Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range was finalized in 1971. Right now, the herd is in a situation very similar to that of 2008. Though we are only a few years removed from the last gather, the herd has again grown in size. This year is essentially the last opportunity for a less intrusive bait-trapping operation; by next year, the size of the herd and the need for a gather would be such that a helicopter gather would be the only feasible option. If this gather were to be stopped, I am absolutely certain that a helicopter gather comparable to that of 2009 will occur. There is no reason that this should happen.
Further, there is no reason that a helicopter gather should ever occur in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range again. This herd is being managed under a Herd Management Area Plan based on the best available science; the HMAP has stated goals of increasing herd and range health so that a larger horse population can be allowed. Since the HMAP was affirmed, there have been a significant number of new strategies implemented to allow for these goals to occur. In regard to the management of the herd, a unique and well-designed fertility control program was started in the spring of 2011. As this program continues to expand, there will be a significant decrease in the number of foals born each year. However, there is strong evidence that such a fertility control program alone will not lead to the significant decrease of a herd’s size over time. Instead, it should lead to the stabilization of the population; there should not be any great positive or negative swings in the numbers. From this evidence, I further believe that the gather must happen this year. This wild horse population must be brought to a size that can exist in balance with the fragile resources of their home. Thus, 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. Again, though, this is a very delicate time; and 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 individual’s 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.