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BLM will utilize bait and trap in future wild horse gathers

At a public informational meeting hosted by the Bureau of Land Management, Acting BLM Colorado State Director Stephanie Connolly said future gathers 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 the horses that will remain on the range. Currently, horses are leaving Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in search of feed resources on privately owned lands.

Herd areas, where horses were found after the passage of the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act lack the resources to sustain a population of horses. In Colorado, these HAs are Douglas Mountain, North Piceance, West Douglas, and Naturita Ridge. There are also four HMAs in the state which 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 gathered 684 horses from the Sand Wash HMA to bring the horse population back to acceptable levels. Of those gathered, 49 horses were returned to the Sand Wash HMA. Bittner said the Sand Wash horses are in high demand for adoption and this area is one that darting with a contraceptive is used extensively.

Elijah Waters, district manager of BLM Colorado’s Northwest District in Craig, said private and state-owned land surrounds and is interspersed around the Piceance-East Douglas HMA. The HMA itself is 190,000 acres. In 2021, he said the population of horses was six times the AML at 1,385, not including the 457 horses gathered that year.



“Yes, there is livestock grazing in the Piceance-East Douglas HMA,” he said. “Livestock operators have taken voluntary reductions due to lack of forage on the use of their authorized AUMs and the data in 2021 shows them using only about 40% of their authorized AUMs.”

COLLECTING DATA

Waters said the BLM has partnered with White River and Douglas Creek Soil and Water Conservation District to collect range data using exclosures to measure forage growth and consumption for documentation.

“As part of that partnership, the Conservation District put out video cameras to accurately identify what was eating the forage,” he said. “The cameras are a 360-degree view with sensors to quickly spin around and take multiple pictures of whatever comes into the camera’s view.”

Between April and November, the data collected showed 80% of the camera triggers were caused by wild horses. Cows are only present from April to November, so he said if cameras were left out year-round, the percentage of times the cameras are triggered by horses would be much higher.

The body condition scores of horses in the Herd Management Areas were primarily 3 and below. A number of horses with high body condition scores were noted on privately owned land near the HMA where the horses had moved to find feed and water resources. Screenshot

Waters said in late spring, the BLM office was receiving calls from the public reporting wild horses in poor body condition, reports that matched the reports from staff in the field. Staff went out to the range and determined that, of 450 head, about 45% of the horses were in a body condition score of 3 or less with 3 considered thin. 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 privately owned land.

The Piceance-East Douglas HMA also includes about 25,600 acres of Greater Sage Grouse habitat, with another 18,000 acres in surrounding HAs. Waters said since 2015, the number of active leks (nesting pairs) have dropped from 11 to two and high male counts have decreased from 14 to three. Waters said despite current drought conditions, there is other Sage Grouse habitat in the region without horses present that are not experiencing the same trend of decreasing Sage Grouse populations.

“In fact, in some areas, the Sage Grouse numbers are even increasing,” he said.

SCHEDULED GATHER

The 2022 Gather Plan, said Waters, will be a bait trap gather from approximately June 16 to July 14, using food and water to gather malnourished horses. The Drive Trap gather will begin July 15 until it is complete, utilizing horseback riders and helicopters. Waters said fertility control, which is good for a year, will be administered to all mares returned to the HMA.

“Originally, this gather was scheduled for September, however, due to the poor conditions of the horses coming out of winter, and after consultation with our wild horse experts, we felt like the most humane thing we could do is move the gather up to July,” he said. “We felt the wild horses would be in their peak condition by then and getting excess horses off the range sooner rather than later would be the best thing for the 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 adequate forage for the winter.”

Gathered horses will be transported to a holding facility in Utah, which is closer to the HMA and will reduce the amount of time horses will spend being transported.

Connolly also addressed the recent disease outbreak and deaths of 145 horses at a Canon City BLM facility. She said the bureau is addressing staff shortages at the facility and there is a report in progress detailing the best ways to mitigate future similar situations.

During the question-and-answer session following the presentation of the 2022 Gather Plan, Waters was repeatedly asked how many cattle are on the public land and he explained the AMU system and that cattle are not present year-round as horses are. He also explained that livestock grazing is at reduced rates, where horse numbers are six times the AML.

Since the meeting, the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations has earmarked $11 million for fertility control vaccines administered by the BLM.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce has also advanced the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, H.R. 3355 that would end the exportation of equines for slaughter and permanently prevent horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S.

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