February 3, 2011 – Winter Conditions Memo

The Billings Field Office has released a memo regarding winter conditions on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. This memo can be read on the Billings Field Office’s Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Information website or by clicking here. I would highly recommend reading this memo.

As you can see, the situation is not an emergency; and the Billings Field Office will continue to monitor it so that proper steps can be taken if it does become one. In the recommendations section, there is discussion about the importance of not feeding the horses. This is a relevant topic in the area now due to major efforts to feed a number of horses on property near Billings. However, it is very important that feed not be brought to the horses right now by the public. If supplemental feeding is needed, it will take very careful planning and a lot of work to ensure that it doesn’t do more harm than good.

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm  Comments (18)  

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  1. Matt, I welcome the prompt update. It’s good to know the wild horses will be monitored over the Winter. Please thank everyone involved, especially the riders. And I’d like to thank their horses as well. Horses go where other transportation can’t – something that’s often underappreciated. Bet they were glad to get back home!

  2. That is good to be reminded not to feed. Good intentions sometime’s backfire.

    Thank you Matt.

  3. Can they plow areas to making pawing for the earth and the frozen grasses easier in places? Or is that considered “feeding.”

  4. Matt,
    Thanks for sharing this info. I’m glad that the BLM and the public are working together in reporting concerns, checking on the horses and contemplating an emergency plan.
    The Pryor Mountain Mustangs’ management should be the guideline for how all Mustang herds are managed by the BLM.

    If conditions are better on Forest Service land- is it possible to open the gate to give the horses access to more land/feed during this time of concern?

    Is one Mustange on private property such a big deal for this land owner given the extreme weather conditions? Where is this person’s compassion?
    Good Luck,

    • I like you idea of opening the gate, if better forage. Lo cost solution to a man made problem. (if better forage potentially exists).

      • Agreed. Extreme circumstances call for amending plans.

  5. I’m glad they’re thinking ahead. I sure hope they do all right.

  6. So the report says that one of the mares of sick and dire condition before winter. Now she is not being observed but her foal is still around. I am assuming this means that she passed on. Do we know what mare it is? Just curious, I love every one of them and getting to know them by names tend to wonder when there is not post on the ones that have passed away.

  7. Hope that mare is not Beauty…
    She’s old and her life was turned upside down last fall with the upheaval in Seattle’s band. Maybe too much change along with adverse conditions, even tho she’s very knowledgable and independent.

  8. I suppose the horse that “perpetually leaves the PMWHR” is Exhileration. Would the landowners object so strongly to him being there if he were gelded, if it is him? Or will he end up being adopted out?

    I truly hope that there is a weather occurrence soon that will alleviate this situation. It sounds pretty scary to me. It’s going to be hard to witness the natural order of things on the Range, especially since the numbers aren’t real good anyway, if the horses, and other species, don’t get a break soon.

    If only there was a way to import a high moisture grassy hay that wouldn’t be such a stress to their systems and not a threat to the native vegetation either.

    We can go to the moon, we should be able to help these horses whose movement we have restricted so tightly so that they cannot save themselves. My heart says we owe it to them. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help besides pay my taxes.

    Thanks for the report, Matt, and I hope you’ll have good news soon. Thanks also to the others who care.

  9. Hello all,

    I thought I’d try and answer questions about how the new Forest Service fence may relate to all this. The fence is almost at the top of the Range, from the perspective of elevation; and that area is going to have a lot of snow. The areas adjacent to it are also up pretty high. It’s just not an area that has a lot of potential for winter use. I think the last time I saw any significant horse use of the upper elevation areas this year was in November. Since then, the horses have moved down into the middle and lower elevation areas. Thus, even if the gates of the fence were opened, the horses wouldn’t be able to get up to it; and there wouldn’t be anything more for them to eat if they could. I once heard a story about some horses that got stranded on Tony’s Island one winter. Apparently, many of them died; and the ones that did survive had eaten each other’s tails for nutrition. I have also heard of times when the BLM worked hard to get horses down off the mountain before the winter so that situations like that wouldn’t happen.

    In past years, the Forest Service horses did tend to winter in the Tie Flats and areas adjacent to it. However, past years also had less snow than this year.

    If there was a big emergency, one of the solutions that has been discussed is allowing access to the Administrative Pastures. The pastures are on the southwestern part of the original herd area. This is about the only area that could be opened for the horses in an emergency situation. Private lands and county roads really define the maximum extent of the southern boundary of the PMWHR. That said, though, there isn’t an emergency right now. The Billings Field Office’s memo only acknowledged current conditions out there and discussed the possibility that things could continue to get bad. Also, they again do not want to have anyone going out to feed the horses due to the problems this could cause.

    I tried to go out to the Range this morning, but a snowstorm has moved in. It’s pretty windy, and the snowflakes are pretty big. The winter conditions this year aren’t necessarily abnormal for the PMWHR. In the past, there have been some pretty bad winters. Perhaps what we are seeing now is actually normal, and what we had seen in past years was abnormal and the result of drought conditions. I’m going to scan some photographs and put up information on this in some of the future blog posts to give you an idea of what I mean.

    Again, though, things out there aren’t dire and hopeless. People are just taking this very seriously, and they are trying to be proactive. We’ll just hope for an end to this bad weather soon so that the horses can get through the tough months of February and March before the spring growing season starts.

    I know I’ve been bad about replying to comments. Things are busy now, but I’ll also answer other questions as I can. Thanks!

  10. I guess one silver lining in this situation is that there should be more water available on the Range next summer with more snow this winter.

    It would just be real nice if there could be a little melting for a while to make foraging a bit easier in between snowfalls. We can hope.

    Thanks much for the updates.

    • Yes, those guzzlers should be overflowing when it melts! Heavy snowpack may also discourage the horses from moving up the mountain so fast, and this may help them to learn the locations of the new water sources and be able to take advantage of the good forage in that area.

      Some good and long-lasting melting would go a long way. We have had some melting days, but they are followed by frigid and snowy weather. This has caused some layers of ice to form, and this just makes it harder for the horses to get to food. The snowy weather looked to be ending during the afternoon, but the mountains have more clouds over them tonight. When they did clear today, I could see that a decent amount of new snow had fallen during the morning. It has also been pretty windy. That said, though, the passing of today also brings us one day closer to warmer weather.

      I sure do appreciate the support being shown by everyone during this situation, and I know that the Billings Field Office also really appreciates it. Thanks everyone!

  11. Since i am getting all kinds of news and photos out of montana of wildlife dead and dying, I am not sure wait and see is a really well thought out response, as montana has a very cavalier attitude about its wildlife, I unlike the others here find no comfort in what I am hearing about policy..This winter is being recorded as a record setter for places like Montana that have historically had big winters and die-offs.

  12. Just in past week I read somewhere that the Interior Secretary may allow feeding of the horses. . . where did I read that? (I mean, it was in an official document, not a news item. . .)

    Matt? If you recognize, please indicate, otherwise I will keep searching, Have been for 2 days for the document. . .

  13. Introduction to the 1971 Act:

    “Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros SHALL BE PROTECTED FROM (capture, branding, harassment, or) DEATH;

    Might this be interpreted as to allow feeding or other changes that may assist their winter survival? These herds have not been allowed the natural drifting associated with their species in the wild. This one fact (man-made) would seem bear upon the current situation.

  14. This is one of those Montana winters that will make the species strong and the weak will die. (I remember the winter of 77-78 as being particularly rugged also.) However, this is my concern regarding BLM managament policy of this herd: Nature might just take care of it without much human intervention and manipulation–except so many mares have been treated with PZP and birth rate will be low. That is definitely a concern. I agree with your comment Janet, about the altering of their natural drifting also.

  15. I don’t know if this would be appropriate for wild horses or your particular range, but do any of the cattle outfits in the area have hay grinders?

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