Wild horse gather attracts international attention

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MEEKER I This month’s gathering of wild horses by the BLM is drawing a lot of attention.
Even from the international media.
Two French journalists were in Meeker last week to cover the gathering and to interview Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, at the Blue Spruce Inn.
Madeleine Pickens, who arrived in Meeker by private airplane last Friday, has plans to create a large refuge in Nevada for wild horses.
“I have been after her to get an interview and she eventually accepted,” said French journalist Jean Marc Gonin.
Gonin, a reporter with a French daily newspaper, has been following the wild horse issue in the West.
“I started following this story of wild horses like two years ago when I read the BLM was planning to kill the horses because there were too many of them. Then I saw there were many advocates (for wild horses) who said they wanted to stop that,” Gonin said. “I thought I’d come over to the States to write the story.”
Asked what he had observed during the gathering, Gonin said, “I’ve heard so many things, but I’m not a specialist on horses. From what I’ve seen, there was no injury and they were well taken care of. It’s a strange sight to see a chopper over a band of wild horses.
“But they (the wild horse gatherers) are skilled. I’ve seen at least three cases of horses being roped by cowboys, but it was done in a very proper way, without suffering by the animal. They are wild horses, so they are not happy to be caught, that is for sure, but that is a different issue.”
The wild horse gather, which occurs about every four years, is taking place in the West Douglas Herd Area. A herd of about 100 wild horses will be removed from an area south of Rangely.
“We’re going to gather in that area because that population has grown above the management area,” said David Boyd, a BLM spokesman for the northwest region. “It’s a really great place for horses, but because of that, we need to get in there and bring the population back down to the appropriate level, so the horses stay healthy and the range stays healthy and we can manage for balance.”
Gary Moyer of the White River Conservation District said, “When we manage for single use and allow one species to overpopulate, it devastates the other species. That’s what’s occurring with the overpopulation of the wild horse.
“I have heard no one think that the wild horses don’t have a place,” Moyer said. “All we’re asking for is that they be managed at appropriate levels, and the benefit to that is then our range conditions will stay healthy.”
The 190,000 acre Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area is better suited for wild horses,
Kai Turner, Rio Blanco County commissioner, said, “Overpopulation has occurred in the last several years and has become a real issue, as far as the multi-use philosophy that the BLM has in Rio Blanco County.
“Rio Blanco County does support gathering wild horses,” Turner said. “We support a sustainable, manageable amount of wild horses in Rio Blanco County.”
The goal of the wild horse gather, said Kent Walter, manager of the BLM White River Field Office in Meeker, is “what we’re really trying to get down to is that we ensure that we have healthy horses on healthy rangelands.”
The horses not adopted will be placed in long-term pastures, according to a BLM news release.
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Jean Marc Gonin and a French photographer spent five days in Meeker last week. They stayed at the Rambullinn Bed and Breakfast, owned by Gus and Christine Halandras.
“They are absolutely fantastic hosts,” Gonin said. “I live in Paris, but this is a beautiful little community. You have just miles and miles of wilderness. It’s just gorgeous. You have a lot more space than we do in Europe. You see deer and you see elk. It’s just like being in a huge zoo.”