Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Visiting the wild horses of the Pryor Mountains

Last week I headed for Lovell, the jumping off spot to go up to the high meadows of the Pryor Mountain horse range. This is the sixth year that I have headed up the horrible roads to see the horses, and the journey is like visiting old friends. I can't wait to see Flint's mare Feldspar and new foal, see how Bolder is doing with his big band, and also of course and always, Cloud. I head up Burnt Timber Road with dread, knowing the huge boulders and sharp rocks and muddy spots. But I have a friend behind me - Deb Little, a fellow equine photographer from Ohio, and her friend Kim, and at least if one of us has a flat the others can help!
Finally we make our way to the top of the hill and there are horses as far as the eye can see. Most of the horses are up in the meadows near where Burnt Timber and Sykes roads meet. We see Cloud who looks as impressive as ever, running to greet another stallion, then running back to his band, mane and tail billowing in the breeze. He has a little dark colored filly, and Firestorm, his daughter, is notably absent from his band, now with Jackson's band.
One of the most exciting sights that morning was a brand new bright bay colt in Lakota's band - he looks as though he was born the night before, and he is a fiesty little guy, escorted by his mom and protective aunties in his band.

I camped that night in a tent, and late that night I am awakened by a big racket - horses whinnying, grunting, neighing, pawing, running through the trees and close to the tent. It doesn't sound as though they got much sleep that night at all. I wonder what on earth was happening, and which horses might be responsible. The next afternoon I have my answer. Bachelor stallions had been notably absent for the last day and a half, but no more - 7 beautiful bad boys ran together into the meadow, leaving chaos in their wake. Two pale stallions are from Diamond's band, the grullas I think are from Seattles' band. They make an impresseive sight as they wheel and turn as if in formation, then break up to play, grabbing at necks and legs as they rear, paw the air,and strut. This must be the group that kept us up all night!

Our last morning, I got to spend some time with Seattle's band who I had only seen once before up on the mountain - his band usually stays in the dryhead area but 2 years ago I was enchanted by the beautiful compact black stallion and his all grulla band. Now he has 3 black colts and the rest of the band is grulla, including a new filly and a black colt who I first see napping in the lupine together. They run and play for quite a while as their family grazes.

A really bittersweet time for me was on the last evening when I found Shaman. Shaman had lost his band to a much younger Bolder 2 years ago after some bitter battles.
Shaman and his band were the first horses that I spent time with on the Pryor Mountains six years ago,and he has been one of my favorite stallions ever since. Old stallions on the Pryors I have found to be mostly solitary, and this evening, he stood gazing out over the beautiful landscape. He watched several bands interacting, and ran over to Red Raven's band. Red Raven chased him away, and he returned to his solitary state. I wondered how many more summers I would see him up here, and hoped that he wuld not be removed by the BLM, but would be allowed to live out the rest of his days on his beloved mountain.

Soon it is time to go down the hill to town. I think about all the horses I have seen and photographed over 3 days, and wonder who is not going to be there next year, after the BLM roundup shceduled for the end of August that will remove over 60 of these horses from their homes, families and freedom. I wonder how the horses will cope with the proposed reinforced fence that will prevent them from entering their historical and yearly range on the Forest Service lands - the day I leave ALL of the horses are in the Forest Service, and as you observe the horses you realize what an arbitrary boundary that fence is.

I look forward to returning to see them at the end of next month.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wild Horses - Press Release and BLM Advisory Board Meeting

On Monday I attended the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting in Sacramento. This is the third meeting that I have attended in the last 3 years. At the end of each meeting, there is an hour for public comment.
Bob Abbey, the current appointee for Director of the BLM has not yet been confirmed, and the advisory board and the BLM are both waiting for funding for the next year to be approved. They are asking for a whopping 67.5 million dollars. That of course includes a budget for the continuing round ups of wild horses, projected to be 9000 in the next fiscal year. There were updates on various issues such as a new handbook, the rationale for herd areas, (this included an explanation of what happened to the missing 19 million acres that used to be herd areas) and very alarming news on a new experimental fertility control drug which may cause long term or permanent sterility in the mares who receive it. As usual, the Advisory Board members asked very few questions, with the exception of the newest member, Janet Jankuru. Also as usual the main issue of the day, the BLM documents on secret meetings obtained by the Freedom of Information Act which came out last week were not addressed, but during the public comments session, this is what the focus of most of the comments were. The Cloud Foundation has a detailed press release on the contents of these documents - please feel free to forward this to friends and media:


I am including my comments that I made at the meeting here below:

I am speaking in reference to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. I find the Implementation Team’s conference calls to be extremely disturbing.
First of all I would like to take issue with the term “euthanasia” as it I used over and over by the BLM in reference to the 32,000 horses in holding facilities and to the horses to be rounded up in the future. The definition of euthanasia is “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.”
These horses are not hopelessly sick or injured – so I ask the BLM to be honest in the way that they refer to this – it should be killing, or slaughter, or murder or massacre, but not euthanasia.
Calling it by a softer name does not make the actions any more palatable. Discussion of how to spread out the killings over time to make them less shocking to the public could not be more cynical.
These documents with the options discussed in their secret and sinister meetings lead clearly to the conclusion that the BLM is managing the wild horses for extinction. With the options of sales without limitation, which will lead to sales to killer buyers, making the herds non-reproducing, and planning to kill 20 and over horses at roundups, giving younger horses 30 days before killing them, and planning the killing of the horses in short and long term holding, it is clear that if the BLM is not stopped, that very soon we will have no more wild horses on our public lands.
I demand that this planning be stopped until a census can be conducted by a neutral party of exactly how many horses there are currently in the wild. Basing actions on an inflated number is a recipe for disaster. At the last Advisory board meeting I attended in October 2008, the number of wild horses was said o be 26,000 – how has it suddenly leaped to 36,000? Also, at the time of that meeting then Director Henri Bisson vowed to work with parties interested in taking the horses in short and long term holding, which includes Madeleine Pickens, so that there would be no mass killings.
I would like the BLM to shift their focus from how can we eliminate the "problem," i.e. the wild horses, to how can we take care of wild horses in sustainable populations so that the people of the United States can preserve their heritage – these wild horses.


Carol Walker
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

The More Things Change....Cloud's Herd at Risk

After the election in November I found myself full of hope: that with a Democratic majority in Congress and a new president, that things could finally change for the better for the wild horses.
In fact, there is hope with the ROAM Act, HR 1018, Restoring Our American Mustang coming out of committee and on its way to the House floor for a vote, hopefully soon.

However, the Bureau of Land Management does not appear to have changed its ways at all, despite the change in the Administration. First, the BLM calls for bids for 6 more long term holding areas for wild horses because the ones it has are full, and they plan to round up at least 5000 more horses this year. This despite claims from the BLM that they don't have enough money to feed the 33,000 horses currently in long and short term holding, hence their proposal last summer to euthanize them.

Then I have just received the Environmental Assessment and Herd Management Area Plan for Cloud's herd in the Pryor Mountain Herd Management Area in Montana.
In this plan, the BLM will remove over 80 horses and reduce the size of the herd to between 90 - 120 horses, which is below the number needed to sustain genetic viability, especially if most of the breeding age mares that are not removed are treated with birth control.
And the Custer National Forest has plans to rebuild and reinforce the fence dividing the horse area from the Forest Service lands and remove all the horses currently on Forest Service lands.
The problem with this is that the Pryor Mountain horses have lived and grazed in these areas for several hundred years, and anyone who has visited the area will see how meaningless a boundary this fence truly is. I have been following Cloud's herd since 2004, and have watched these horses live and interact and grow in this beautiful environment. This herd is truly a national treasure and deserves to be preserved and protected, not destroyed.

The Cloud Foundation has been fighting hard to preserve Cloud's herd and to stop the Forest Service from building this fence, and the BLM from decimating the herd.
Here is a link to information from the Cloud Foundation about what you can do to help:

On June 15 in Sacramento the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board will be meeting to discuss wild horse management, and there is an opportunity for the public to comment at this meeting. I will be there speaking on behalf of the Pryor Mountain Herd. If you can attend and support the wild horses, please do, and if you cannot, you may submit written comments by June 10.
I will report on the meeting in my next post.

Carol Walker
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