April 9, 2012 – Gather Thoughts

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.

Published in: on April 9, 2012 at 9:18 pm  Comments (18)  

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  1. Thanks for the post, Matt. Although we do not like to see our favorite wild horses captured, I agree that, at this time, this is the better option.

  2. Thanks for your insight, Matt.

    I’ve read the EA report several times and each time something new pops out. Seeing the names the first time was shocking and I think that’s what a lot of people are focused on right now. So many from one age group. I am guessing others, like me, were looking forward to seeing how last year’s foals changed coloring and how the 2 yr-olds matured. Some of the 3 yr-old mares have already produced young of their own or will this year…

    No one wants a helicopter gather.

    There has been a lot of work put into this study – use of the land shows exactly where the horses spend most of their time, the percentages are surprising. Most people hear the number 38,000 and don’t understand why that number of acres will only support 120 horses, one woman commented it was 250 acres per horse. The answer is there – more people have to read the whole report, and maybe more than once, to fully understand. And if all some people are seeing are pretty pictures of horses and have never been to the range, they would be surprised at the type of land the horses are living on. Before visiting, I envisioned horses running in rolling meadows, and was shocked when we drove through what looked like rocky desert. I wondered how they survived there.

    It is also interesting to see the responses to the 63 comments made. Every question someone has asked on any blog, is in the report with the answer or reason for making or not making a decision. People just have to take the time to read the material given them.

    No one wants a helicopter gather.

    • I agree with Joy’s observations, especially the point that most people have no idea what the terrain on the Range is really like. ( I guess it’s understandable tho, since MOST of what they’ve seen has been the beautiful stuff, and closeups of the horses.)

      The scientific evidence pointed out in the documents states that 300-400 acres is required to sustain 1 horse, not the 1 or 2 acres I saw mentioned in one comment questioning the rationale for the sustainable herd size. 1 or 2 acres might do it if it’s a grassy paddock with shade and water nearby, and hay available in the winter. Do the math. 120 horses times say 300 acres per comes to 36,000 acres, and that’s not taking into consideration that a large portion of the Range is totally not foragable with cliffs and rocks, sandy soils, larger vegetation like trees and bushes, etc., etc.

      It would be interesting to know just how much of the estimated 38,000 acres is actually considered foragable area.

      Anyway, like Joy says, the answers are in the documents for those who really want to educate themselves on the subject.

      And anyone who really cares first and foremost about the horses

  3. I am wondering how they will handle some situations. Many of the horses chosen to be removed are with stallions — Grijala, for instance, has Kohl, Kachina and Kindra… he will lose all his mares except Quelle Colour. Obviously there will be some stress here. Is there a strategy or just “do what we can do”?

    • No,Kindra and Kohl will not be removed,ecxept the number of the horses to be removed is not reached

    • Thanks for you recent comments, Joy. I think it may be valuable for me to put together some specifics on the horses in the three tiers along with some general herd demographic data too. I definitely agree with you; the answers are all in there. There’s a lot of information packed into the plan. I’ll try and get this put together and on here soon.
      Thanks again.

      • Anything else you may have the time to add would be greatly appreciated. The priority of the three tiers is understandable, regardless if we wish it were not… putting it all together would definitely help everyone. Thanks.

        BTW, did you see my post about Lander under the EA Decision (April 1)?

    • May not be a whole lot more stressful than losing them to another stallion, hopefully, I’m thinking. And, he’s young enough to acquire others, probably in the near future.

  4. Hi Matt, Thank you for sharing with us your thoughts and common sense. It seems that the right thing to do is to support this gather. I sincerely believe that a gather in this fashion is the way to go, rather than risk stress and injury with a helicopter based one. These horses are so lucky to have someone like you looking out for them.
    Please know how appreciated you are.

  5. My sister and I visited the Range last summer. It was one of the most spectacular experiences I’ve ever had. We both had a great time. I definitely don’t want to see any of those young horses off the range. They are all so unique and I feel like that I know each and every one of them. That being said, if you support the gather scheduled for this year, I do to. The last thing I want to see is a helicopter gather. They’re so dangerous and stressful for the horses. All the information you have given us makes sense. If you can break it out more, it would be very much appreciated. I wish we could’ve met you last year when we were out there. You do so much for the horses with your probably not so much extra time. Thanks again!

  6. Hi Matt,
    Poignant and well thought out post. I support your opinion. Certainly removing a smaller number of horses this year via a method less stressful and dangerous to them than the helicopter gather makes sense.

  7. I have put together two documents that I think are helpful in providing more details on the 1 – 3 year olds as well as the herd itself.

    For some more information on the 2009 – 2011 cohorts, please downloading this PDF: https://pryorwild.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/cohortdetails.pdf

    To see a population pyramid for the herd, please download this PDF: https://pryorwild.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/2012populationpyramid.pdf.

    Hope this helps! I have been working on building an online herd database; I think it will be very helpful to get to know the herd as well as to be able to identify horses more easily. Please let me know if you have any other ideas on useful content that relates to this gather too.

    • Matt, Thanks! Those are great! The population pyramid is interesting… That’s a big difference in numbers between 5 yr olds and 9 yr olds — is that because of the 2009 gather?

      An online database would be most welcome. Would it be available to anyone? or by password, etc?

    • Thanks for the additional info…very interesting data. And an online database would be awesome! I’m still trying to identify horses in pictures I took last summer. LOL!

    • This is an awesome idea and I’m sure very labor intensive. I haven’t been to the range in 4 years and I know I am out of touch with the names and lineage of a lot of the horses. This would be a great resource to catch up with. Thank you so much Matt for doing this!!!

  8. Thanks Matt!
    Your perspective and common sense is much-needed when it comes to such emotionally-charged decisions.
    This kind of a roundup is certainly much better than the alternative, that of a helicopter.
    The bottom line is that the land base has a limited carrying capacity, and better that some of the horses be removed to good homes, rather than grow weak and starve. The latter would be nature’s way and perhaps acceptable if the horses were allowed to move wherever they wish, but they are not. They are fenced in by man-made and natural barriers. As always, humans created the situation, so humans have to step in and manage it, to the best benefit possible for the horses and the forage.
    Thanks again, for all you do!

  9. Thanks Matt, for whatever you can share with us—whenever. Is there a concensus yet among seasoned observers as to how the use of the guzzlers is going? I liked the pic of the four horses lined up drinking at one of them on the BLM document. And how about the range use of the areas near the guzzlers? I know they are a relatively long-term goal, but wonder how you all feel about the subject at this point. I had heard a few good reports. Also, please let us know ASAP when you know when the adoptions will begin from the upcoming gather. I keep forgetting to check the BLM website.

  10. “The sun was almost setting as I took a few final pictures of Cloud. He will be 17 on May 29th. He looks deceptively young, I thought. Will his range be expanded to ensure that his legacy will survive into the future? Can the big fence come down so the herd can again access vital grazing in the Custer National Forest? Can the gates be opened into the low country, providing over 3,600 acres of vital winter forage? Can the population be allowed to grow to truly safe, genetically viable numbers? And can all this be accomplished in Cloud’s lifetime?”
    –from Ginger Kathryn’s “One Glorious Day” The Cloud Foundation Newsletter.

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