Some Questions and Answers – February 2008

I have lately been getting a number of phone calls and e-mails with questions about the future of the management of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses. As a result, I have put together this little question and answer writeup that addresses some common questions. Special thanks goes to the Billings Field Office for helping in answering these questions as best they can be answered at this time. With that said, here are the questions and answers:

How many horses could be removed from the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in 2008?

There are currently no plans for a 2008 roundup yet. If plans are made, they will likely start being made in the next month or so. There would likely be around 30 horses removed.

How would the horses be rounded up?

Some sort of trapping method would be used. It would not be identical to the trapping method used in the 2006 roundup but would likely be similar in principle.

What horses will be rounded up?

Roundup efforts will likely focus on addressing the high number of upcoming yearlings (2007 foals) along with perhaps some upcoming two year olds (2006 foals). As far as the current population goes, these are likely the areas of biggest concern, especially the upcoming yearlings. Removal decisions will take into consideration the genetic representation and phenotype of the horse, which has been how many past removal decisions have been made. Genetic representation refers to how many relatives a horse has on the range. Care must be taken to not promote or demote family lines due to the small population of the range, and so those horses that will be aide in maintaining this balance will be prioritized to stay. Phenotype refers to the physical characteristics of the horse; horses that best reflect the desired phenotype will be prioritized to stay.

How many horses are on the range?

By my best calculation, I believe there to be approximately 144 adult wild horses (age 1 and up) and 34 foals (born in 2007). I say approximately because it is hard doing accurate counts in the winter due to accessibility and weather. I have suspicion that the number of adult wild horses is slightly lower, perhaps by 2 to 3 animals; but I have not verified this. I have also not been able to verify that every foal is alive still. Under my most recent documentation, I account for 17 foals in the Dryhead, Sykes Ridge, and Burnt Timber populations. Despite this, I still maintain the aforementioned population numbers.

How many horses should be on the range?

It is difficult to answer this question as there is more than one way to answer it. Basically, it comes down to the appropriate management level (AML) and the idea of a genetically viable population. These numbers are not the same. The BLM does not have the legal authority to base one on the other. This does not mean the BLM does not care about genetically viable populations; they just have to do their best to reconcile the two desired populations. AML is based on rangeland carrying capacity while genetic viability describes the desired horse population that would allow the herd to continue on successfully without being destroyed by the effects of having too small a population, such as harmful inbreeding.

The AML for the range is currently set at 85-105 horses. In the 2008 evaluation, the AML for the range is recommended at 92-117 horses that are age 1 and over. This recommended AML range is based on two calculations in the 2008 evaluation. The low end value is based on the average value of calculations using data from 1995 to 2006. This data includes horse population numbers and measured forage utilization values. The high end value is also based on similar average values from 1995 to 2006. However, the utilization values are adjusted with precipitation data. Descriptions and worksheets of these calculations can be found in the 2008 evaluation. The formulas used in these calculations are from BLM evaluation manuals.

The genetic viability population number that is often described involves 140 to 150 breeding age horses. This population has been proposed by Gus Cothran and Francis Singer and reflects a good understanding of both population genetics and the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse herd. Other population numbers have also been proposed; these range from lower than and higher than the aforementioned number.

Where does the recently released Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Evaluation fit in with all of this?

To understand the purpose of the evaluation, it is best to understand the history of Herd Management Area Plans (HMAPs) for the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. The original plan came out in 1984. Revisions were made in 1992. Thus, today’s BLM managers’ decision making process and possible actions are governed largely in part by the 1984 HMAP with the 1992 revisions. This means that a range of management guidelines, from AML to desired phenotype, come from these documents. Today, in 2008, there is obviously a lot more known about the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses and the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range than there was in 1984 or 1992. Despite this knowledge, however, it is the 1984 HMAP and the 1992 revisions that still are the governing documents. Thus enters the BLM’s serious attempts at creating a new HMAP for the range. The current HMAP and revisions detail how the revision process must occur, i.e. doing this evaluation. The evaluation is helping to pave the way for a “modernized” HMAP for the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

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Published in: on February 28, 2008 at 4:37 pm  Comments (3)  

February 24, 2008 – Burnt Timber

On the 24th I decided to try as hard as I could to get up into the Burnt Timber area in hopes of seeing how some of those horses. I’d not been up there since early January, and on that day I only saw Lakota’s family. My previous attempts at getting up there were stopped due to the amount of snow and mud on the road. However, it seems as though someone’s been having a little fun breaking drifts out there; and so I was easily able to make it a pretty good distance in. I ended up hiking a few miles in to get to Cheyenne Flats, where I was anticipating there would be some horses.

The first family I saw was Starman’s. They were relatively low in an area that you often see horses this time of year. Starman watched his family while they grazed and ate snow.

Starman

Rosarita

Guinevere and Half Moon

Besides the two mares and the filly foal, Starman still has the 5 year old stallion in the group.

Capp

A good ways up, I saw Chino and his family on a nearby hillside. In his winter coat, Chino and his mare demonstrate well the difference between buckskin and dun.

Chino’s family

Chino’s family

In this general area, I also found Lakota’s family. They were below a rock outcropping, and so it was a little difficult to photograph them.

Lakota’s family

The foals are getting big, and I think it is neat how close the filly is getting to her mom in appearance.

Lakota’s family

From this location, I was able to look west to an area I understand is called Jim’s Farm. I saw some horses out there. This area is an island ridge that is between Crooked Creek Canyon and Burnt Timber Canyon. Due to the lighting and my only using binoculars, it was hard to determine which horses I was seeing. I think it was Tecumseh’s family, though. I’m planning a way to get out there to see if I can find any other horses in the area.

Making my way up, I finally arrived at lower Cheyenne Flats. When I arrived, there weren’t any horses to be seen. However, a few minutes later, I saw a foal head peek up over the edge of the flat. Soon horses started moving up onto the flats, and it was White Cloud’s family. I just parked myself onto a patch of dry rock and photographed them as they moved up. He still has his family of 3 mares, 2 fillies, his 2 year old daughter, and his 3 filly foals.

White Cloud

His 2 year old daughter looks really striking now in her winter coat. The black and dun are his fillies.

Bailey’s and Firestorm

Fettucine

The two original foals and the September foal are also looking pretty good.

Scarlett and Hurricane

Damsel and Arrow

Aztec and Hurricane

Looking across Big Coulee to Sykes Ridge, I could see a number of horses with my binoculars. One family was for sure Bolder’s family. I think I also saw Littlefoot and his filly as well as some bachelors. There were also some horses impossible to identify due to the distance. I’ll look forward to getting up into that area to see those horses soon too. There still is the mystery of where the rest of the Burnt Timber horses are that I want to see, but that is some really rugged country with plenty of areas that make seeing or accessing them really difficult.

Published in: on February 28, 2008 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

February 17, 2008 – Mustang Flats

On the 17th, I made a quick trip out to Bighorn Canyon to see if I could see any horses. The first wildlife I saw were some sheep.

Sheep

Once on Mustang Flats, I saw Seattle’s family. Seattle and his lead mare Beauty were grazing together in a drainage while the rest of the family was a little higher up.

Seattle and Beauty

Farallon

Seattle’s family

Seattle’s foals are getting big, and they are looking to be in great health.

Seattle’s foals

As I headed back the sun came out, and I saw Sam and Hightail at Crooked Creek Bay before leaving the range.

Sam and Hightail

The day before, the Mustang Center’s president had been out in the area watching the horses too. He was able to see Blizzard, Sacajawea, and the colt foal. Blizzard’s original grulla roan mare was not there, and so I am thinking she was likely not there when I last saw them either. It will be interesting to see what has happened to her.

Published in: on February 28, 2008 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

February 13, 2008 – Lower Sykes Ridge

We made the big hike up Lower Sykes Ridge again on the 13th. While walking in the snow along the rim of a canyon, we came upon Bristol; and he had Greta back.

Bristol and Greta

Just to the northwest of them were the Dryhead bachelors.

Dryhead boys

Starbuck wasn’t with them then, and I didn’t see him that day. However, this isn’t atypical behavior for him to drift to and from bachelors. In fact, the first time I ever saw Starbuck, he was with the bachelor pair of Admiral and Cibeque. When I went out the next day, he was gone from them already.

The bachelors were moving up the hill, and so we just sat and waited for them to pass by so that we wouldn’t change their travel plans. They remained alert, but it took them a little while to move past as they stopped to graze and eat a little snow on the way.

Medicine Bow and Fiero

Fools Crow

I’ve said it before, but getting to watch these three together is a pretty special treat on the range. Many past visitors have very likely seen the behavior of bachelor groups before, likely on the mountain. However, these three are the only static bachelor group that isn’t just made up of a pair of bachelors due to the last roundup which effectively eliminated the “black bachelor” group that had been on the mountain. Thus, among many other reasons, these three are very special horses in the social fabric of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses.

The bachelors ended up moving up another hill. Walking around the hill, I got a nice glimpse of Fools Crow as he looked over the edge as we walked past.

Fools Crow

Published in: on February 22, 2008 at 1:26 pm  Comments (2)