Bait trapping is the favored procedure if wild horses need to be removed from the Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, according to a decision released Friday by the Tres Rios Bureau of Land Management office.
About 60 wild horses roam the 22,000-acre Herd Management Area in Disappointment Valley between Dove Creek and Norwood. The BLM and volunteer horse groups manage the bays, sorrels, grays and pintos under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
The appropriate management level for the Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area is 35 to 65 horses.
“The BLM is committed to maintaining a healthy wild horse population that is in balance with healthy rangelands in the Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area,” said Connie Clementson, Tres Rios field manager. “By managing herd growth, we are ensuring enough food and water is available for the wild horses while protecting public rangeland resources.”
In the event of a roundup, the BLM will use bait and water traps. Helicopters may be used if roundup objectives are not being met and when environmental conditions warrant.
No roundups are planned for the immediate future.
Currently, the herd population is being controlled by a fertility method that targets selected mares using specialized darts.
Wild horse numbers are managed to maintain genetic diversity and a healthy grazing range, the assessment says. The herd’s size is adjusted, depending on the range’s condition, to promote less competition for forage and water resources.
Domestic grazing is not allowed in the herd management area, but the wild horses share the natural forage and water sources with deer and elk.
During the public scoping of roundup proposals, the BLM received 6,897 comments. Overall, the majority of the comments preferred bait trapping over helicopter roundups, according to the study.
In 2011, a roundup that used a helicopter to drive Spring Creek Basin horses into pens triggered outcry from horse advocates because of the stress it put on the animals.
Bait trapping is a less disruptive method for roundups, said TJ Holmes, a BLM volunteer who helps manage the horses. Water and food lure the horses into pens, and a remote-controlled gate traps them inside.
“It is easier and safer on the horses than being chased by helicopters,” Holmes said. “When managing wild animals, slower is better.”
She commended the BLM and horse groups for working together toward a management plan that favors the less disruptive bait trapping if a roundup is necessary.
“A lot of work and cooperation was involved with many stakeholders to bring this practical, humane plan forward, and we are very grateful for it,” Holmes said.
Bait trapping also enables managers to better select horses based on specific bands and genetic diversity, Holmes said. Trapped horses that are not selected for removal are returned to the range, and mares may get a booster shot of fertility control. Occasionally during roundups, managers might introduce a mare from another herd to improve genetic diversity.
Under the BLM decision, bait trapping would be used to cull the herd if needed, followed by a helicopter roundup only if necessary to capture the required number of horses. Ten bait trapping areas are identified in the study.
In the past, large numbers of horses were removed, including 74 in 2007 and 50 in 2011. The new analysis concludes that removing smaller numbers of animals not only improves genetic viability, it also improves adoption rates, keeping them from entering long-term holding facilities.
Under the decision, herding by horseback-mounted riders could be used but would not be used for actual capture of wild horses. The approved plan allows for the continued collection of herd characteristics, health examination of individual animals and collection of genetic samples for monitoring genetic variation and viability.
When roundups were deemed necessary, traps would be temporarily constructed using 15 to 25 portable steel panels. The traps would be built to allow wild horses to move freely through them until they become accustomed to the panels. A remote-controlled gate then traps them inside the pens.
According to the study, one application for guided wild horse viewing tours is under consideration by the field office. It could authorize about 10 trips per year with up to 12 clients per trip.
The decision will be used for future roundups over the next 10 years. No roundups are currently planned.
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