August 12, 2016
Dear Supporters of the Pryor Mountain Horses:
We have become aware of a recent legal Opinion that involves the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses. This is a continuation of legal action initiated by Friends of Animals (FoA), a Connecticut based animal advocacy group who unsuccessfully attempted to stop the BLM’s 2015 removal of 19 Pryor horses. Last week, Judge Susan P. Watters issued an Opinion on this litigation. While Judge Watters confirmed that the BLM acted properly in many areas, she also stated that the BLM failed to recalculate the herd’s Appropriate Management Level (AML), as outlined in the 2009 Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP). At this point, we do not know the impact this Opinion will have on the herd. Based on similar situations that have occurred here, we strongly believe that this Opinion could result in significant negative impacts to the herd.
Wild horse management solutions are not easy, yet we believe the Billings BLM has made great efforts to select management solutions that best ensure a healthy herd of Pryor Horses and a healthy range for them to live on while considering today’s realities. These efforts include plans tiered to the 2009 Herd Management Area Plan: projects to improve range conditions including water sources, plans to use temporary fertility control on selected mares, and plans to conduct a series of small, low-impact bait-trap removals of young horses, not only to stabilize population growth but also to ensure representation of all bloodlines on the range. This last objective is unique compared to most Herd Management Area Plans, but is consistent with goals to preserve the unique genetics on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.
Again, this recent Opinion points to the fact that the BLM did not recalculate the AML. However, it should be noted that under the current HMAP, the BLM has been able to work to develop a thorough management strategy. The point needs to be stressed that the BLM has been very tolerant of a herd population that has exceeded the AML for many years. The fact that BLM failed to recalculate the AML prior to the 2015 removal of 19 horses does not mean that that the removal was unnecessary, as lawsuits in other states have charged; but instead reflects implementation of steps designed to plan for a series of small removals based on the annual results of previous year’s fertility control. This was largely due to a goal to work towards a genetically viable herd by ensuring that removals are carefully managed to preserve representation of existing bloodlines and genetic diversity. In developing the strategy, the BLM considered and used comments from the Mustang Center as well as other organizations and individuals who have diverse yet informed perspectives. The result is a management program that works to balance a genetically viable herd with a sustainable rangeland. Notably, this program revolves around the concept that natural management, along with small, bait trap gathers and fertility control, can allow management goals to be achieved while avoiding large scale helicopter gathers, such as the significant 2009 gather. Such a program also allows management decisions to be adaptively made based on the large amount of data that results from the continual monitoring of the herd. The BLM uses a current database of the horses on the Range that includes their observations and the observations of the public, including the Mustang Center’s comprehensive database that includes over 40 years of data on the herd. This type of herd information is essential to monitor the population with frequency. Management decisions are made on an ongoing basis and are driven by the current demographic information of the herd. The Mustang Center believes this approach has been very successful; so far, in 2016, we are seeing the impact of the plan with a nearly equal birth/death rate. Further, the Center believes that proper conservation of the herd’s bloodlines is also occurring which goes toward ensuring the herd’s genetic health.
The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range has and could continue to serve as a model for other Herd Management Areas due to the success of the collaborative effort between the BLM, groups like ours, and individuals. So when we read of this Opinion in a local newspaper it caused great concern. We see this Opinion based on a technicality – a misguided technicality that has the great potential to have negative impact on the herd by undermining the current practices that many individuals have worked very hard to see implemented.
We definitely understand the obstacles that arise with wild horse management. As stated above, there are no easy solutions. We also know that everyone doesn’t agree with the solutions found in the current management plan. However, when looking to make change, we believe it should be done so with viable solutions in mind. The current Herd Management Area Plan for the Pryor Herd offers practical solutions to the public management of wild horses. Management is a delicate balance between a viable population and adequate resources in confined areas that restrict movement in search of food and water. The apparent strategy behind this lawsuit and the recent Opinion could therefore have unintended negative consequences which is of great concern to us. We keep asking, why the focus on the Pryor horses when the current HMAP offers practical and proven solutions to preserve this herd?
The Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center