At a public briefing hosted by the Bureau of Land Management, Stephanie Connolly, acting director of BLM Colorado State, said future roundups of wild horses in the state will include baiting operations.
In order to maintain healthy range conditions for horses on public lands, Connolly said Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) must be maintained by managing populations and leaving adequate forage on the range for horses that will remain on the range. the course. Currently, horses leave Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in search of feed resources on private land.
Herding areas, where horses were found after the passage of the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act, lack the resources to sustain a horse population. In Colorado, these PAs are Douglas Mountain, North Piceance, West Douglas, and Naturita Ridge. There are also four HMAs in the state that are managed for healthy horses and healthy range by the BLM. These are Sand Wash Basin (163-363 AML), Piceance East Douglas (135-235 AML), Little Book Cliffs (90-150 AML), and Spring Creek Basin (50-80 AML).
Last year, the BLM rounded up 684 horses from the Sand Wash HMA to bring the horse population down to acceptable levels. Of those rounded up, 49 horses were returned to Sand Wash HMA. Bittner said Sand Wash horses are in high demand for adoption and that area is where contraceptive use is widely used.
Elijah Waters, district manager for BLM Colorado’s Northwest District in Craig, said private and public land surrounds and is scattered around HMA Piceance-East Douglas. The HMA itself is 190,000 acres. In 2021, he said the horse population was six times the AML at 1,385, not including the 457 horses gathered that year.
“Yes, there are cattle grazing in HMA Piceance-East Douglas,” he said. “Herders have taken voluntary reductions due to lack of forage on the use of their authorized AUMs and data in 2021 shows that they are only using around 40% of their authorized AUMs.”
Waters said the BLM has partnered with White River and the Douglas Creek Soil and Water Conservation District to collect rangeland data using exclosures to measure growth and consumption of fodder for documentation purposes.
“As part of this partnership, the Conservation District installed video cameras to accurately identify what was eating the forage,” he said. “The cameras have a 360-degree view with sensors to quickly rotate and take multiple shots of anything in the camera’s view.”
Between April and November, data collected showed that 80% of camera triggers were caused by wild horses. The cows are only around from April to November, so he said if the cameras were left out all year, the percentage of times the cameras are triggered by horses would be much higher.
Waters said in late spring that the BLM office was receiving calls from the public reporting wild horses in poor physical condition, reports that matched information from field personnel. Staff visited the range and determined that, out of 450 head, approximately 45% of the horses had a body condition score of 3 or less, with 3 considered lean. The sample size also included several hundred horses with higher body condition scores and those horses, he said, had left the HMA and were wintering on private land.
The Piceance-East Douglas CMA also includes approximately 25,600 acres of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, with an additional 18,000 acres in surrounding PAs. Waters said that since 2015 the number of active leks (breeding pairs) has dropped from 11 to two and the high number of males has dropped from 14 to three. Waters said that despite the current drought conditions, there are other sage grouse habitats in the region without horses present that are not experiencing the same trend of declining sage grouse populations.
“In fact, in some areas, sage grouse numbers are even increasing,” he said.
The 2022 collection plan, Waters said, will be a bait trap collected from around June 16 to July 14, using food and water to round up malnourished horses. The Drive Trap rally will begin July 15 until it is complete, using horse riders and helicopters. Waters said fertility testing, which is valid for one year, will be administered to all mares referred to the HMA.
“Originally this gathering was planned for September, however, due to the poor conditions of the horses coming out of winter, and after consultation with our wild horse experts, we thought the most humane thing we could doing was to move the muster to July,” he said. “We felt the wild horses would be in their peak state by then and removing excess horses from the range as soon as possible would be the best thing to do. horses remaining in the HMA This will allow the range to recover and the remaining horses will go into the fall with their best chance of having enough forage for the winter.
The collected horses will be transported to a detention facility in Utah, which is closer to the HMA and will reduce the time the horses will spend being transported.
Connolly also addressed the recent outbreak of illness and the death of 145 horses at a Canon City BLM facility. She said the office was addressing staffing shortages at the facility and an ongoing report detailed the best ways to alleviate similar future situations.
During the Q&A session following the presentation of the 2022 muster plan, Waters was repeatedly asked how many cattle were on public land and he explained the AMU system and that cattle are not not present all year round as are the horses. He also explained that cattle grazing is at reduced rates, where the number of horses is six times the AML.
Since the meeting, the US House Committee on Appropriations has earmarked $11 million for fertility control vaccines administered by the BLM.
The Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce also advanced Save America’s Forgotten Equine (SAFE) Act HR 3355, which would end the export of horses for slaughter and permanently prevent horse slaughterhouses from operating in the United States.