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RBC | At the Rio Blanco County Stockgrowers business meeting Feb. 3, Bureau of Land Management Field Office Manager Kent Walter announced that a new local wild horse group was being formed. Spokespersons indicated they will hold an “organizational interest meeting” on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the BLM office, 220 E. Market St., Meeker, at noon for “all wild horse enthusiasts.” Their purpose is to support the Piceance-East Douglas wild horses and the BLM White River Field Office.
At the stockgrowers meeting, White River and Douglas Creek Conservation District Executive Director Callie Hendrickson and White River past board president Gary Moyer said that the districts, which have been very active in trying to see proper wild horse management implemented by BLM, considered participating with this new group, but determined that its approach was too one-sided in favor of “saving” wild horses rather than advocating proper management.
Tracy Scott, Kathy DeGonia and Meeker resident Diane Mobley are listed as contacts for the meeting. Tracy Scott is associated online with “Steadfast Steeds: Making Amazing Memories with America’s Mustangs,” a nonprofit organization and equine-facilitated (assisted) learning. The latter, according to Scott, is a rapidly growing field through which horses help provide a variety of learning opportunities with a high level of hands-on experience. She has also been associated with “Friends of the Mustangs.”
Mobley said that the intention organizers have for the group is not to save every wild horse, but to support and advocate for the necessary management of wild horses in Rio Blanco County for the general improvement of the range and other environmental conditions. Mobley hopes groups like the conservation districts will realize the advantages of collaborative effort.
The BLM created the Wild Horse and Burro Program to implement the Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, passed by Congress in 1971. Broadly, the law declares wild horses and burros to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” and stipulates that the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service have the responsibility to manage and protect herds in their respective jurisdictions within areas where wild horses and burros were found roaming in 1971.
To maintain wild horses and burros in good condition and protect the health of our public lands, the BLM is required to manage the population growth of wild horse and burro herds. Without natural population controls, such as predation, herds can increase at a rate of up to 20 percent annually, doubling in size in just four to five years, if not appropriately managed. Population control must be implemented to protect scarce and fragile resources in the arid West and ensure healthy animals. BLM states that to carry out this mission, it can control herd growth through the application of fertility measures, such as birth control, and through the periodic removals of excess animals and the placement of those animals into private care.
The BLM website describes the horses within the Piceance-East Douglas Creek herd as similar in size and temperament to quarter horses with some work horse attributes. Typical colors, they say, are bay, gray, sorrel and black with a few roans and buckskins.
See the accompanying map for the location of the Piceance-East Douglas Creek herd area southeast of Rangely. The Herd Management Area is about 190,130 acres in size composed of mostly rolling hills with pinyon-juniper and sagebrush. The appropriate management level (AML) for the herd is 135 to 235 horses.
According to Melissa Kindall, wild horse specialist with the White River field office, with regard to the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area, the estimated number of horses more than one year of age this year, based on BLM’s Feb 2016 aerial count plus 20 percent for herd growth is 485. This means the local BLM office needs to gather about 300 horses this year toward the mid-level goal of 185 horses.
Kindall says her office continues to pursue the authorization and funding for wild horse gathers but that it’s difficult as they have to compete with states that have many more horses and greater issues of rangeland use and protection. Limitations on the number of horses BLM is prepared to house in holding facilities until adoption are also a factor.
Kindall expects to be at Saturday’s meeting as a resource, and she expects Ben Smith, BLM’s wild horse and burro specialist for Colorado’s northwest district out of Grand Junction, to be there as well.
Outside the Herd Management Area, BLM has estimated about 254 horses in the West Douglas Herd Area more than a year old. With last year’s foals coming of age this summer, that number will probably increase to about 315 horses. In the North Piceance Herd Area just east of Rangely about 40 horses are estimated, although BLM did not have the money to do an aerial count of those horses in 2016. On the Magnolia Bench area east of the Piceance Creek Road (County Road 5) there are some 10-15 horses. The goal for the number of horses in all these areas outside the herd management area is zero.
In the whole area of the White River BLM lands east of Highway 13, south of the river and out to the Utah state line, as of Jan. 1, wild horse numbers are estimated to be about 780 versus the goal of 235, all of which are to be in the Piceance-East Douglas herd management area.
For more information about the meeting Saturday, contacts given are Tracy Scott, Glade Park, 970-241-0939, and Kathy DeGonia, Grand Junction, 928-707-1236.