How to: Making Effective Comments*

The NEPA process always makes me antsy, so I tend to scan comments on social media. Based on the comments I’m seeing I’m pretty sure not everyone knows how to effectively make comments. I get it, I was confused the first time I commented on an EA too, so I’m making a follow-up to the post I made about the potential removal in the Pryors to help people (hopefully) know where to start.

Quintana

Feldspar’s been prolific, so if one of her foals gets removed I’d like for it to be Pride. Cloud has more than enough representation, but Quintana is the only surviving offspring of Mescalero.

Step one: Read. Most of the questions I’m seeing are answered in the scoping notice. It’s also important for people to understand all aspects of management in the Pryors. If there are more questions, do more research. Somewhere in the NEPA archives there’s all kinds of information about past management. There’s also a plethora of blogs about the Pryor horses if you want that information in layman’s terms.
Step two: Understand how the NEPA process works. Step one of the NEPA process is the scoping notice. All a scoping notice does is alert the public that a decision will be made, and give the public a chance to make comments about their ideas. Once the BLM compiles all the comments, they write an EA draft. The draft outlines all the options, including the one the BLM wants to make, and a no action alternative. With each potential action, the BLM also has to analyze its impact on the environment. It can seem like a lot, but it also gives the public another opportunity to make comments, and let the BLM know which option they want them to go with.

Quaid

Greta’s been a prolific mare, so I wouldn’t be surprised to se Quaid get removed.

Step three: Writing comments. Once you’ve done research, keep your language as scientific as possible. The stereotype of advocates is they are subjective and emotional. Part of being persuasive is knowing one’s audience, so it is appropriate to see the language in the NEPA process, and try to adjust one’s writing accordingly.
Step four: Avoid petitions. With so many causes, it’s really tempting to use the easy way out, but when commenting on EAs quality vs. quantity is important. Since the responses on petitions are verbatim, petitions are counted as only one comment. Even when comments are similarly worded, they can be considered one comment regardless of if they were individually sent. The way I see it is if you really care about something you’re going to put in the work to help protect it.
Step five: Content. It is important to know that a different field office manages each HMA. That’s part of where research comes in. For example, the Billings BLM tries to use adaptive management, so I would use that to my advantage when making comments. To help illustrate, I’m going to reiterate some of the points to make when responding to the proposed removal of 15-20 1-4 year olds.

Electra kids

Electra has also been a prolific mare, so I think Pegasus would be the preferred choice if one must be removed.

1. At this time a removal is not necessary. Last year there was no growth rate. This year there’s already been a negative growth rate. With the combination of natural selection and PZP it’s likely that trend will continue.
2. With the addition of the Administrative Pastures, AML needs to increase. Continuing to use range improvements such as reseeding, strategic prescribed burns, adding water sources, and increasing the boundary between BLM and USFS land could help alleviate the need for removals.
3. If a removal must take place, reduce the number of horses removed. Removing 15-20 horses would wipe out entire bloodlines and have a negative impact on the long-term health of the range.
4. After the tiers are determined, tier three must be eliminated from removals. The majority of horses between 1-4 would have a negative impact on genetics if removed.
5. Do not remove mare/foal pairs regardless of genetics. Foals aren’t counted into the population count until they are yearlings, thus they are not counted when removed. By waiting until the foal is a yearling, it could help determine the most probable sire, and also determine if the foal will survive its first winter. Once the foal is a yearling, then it’s impact on genetics could be assessed and if appropriate it could be removed then. If the mare is still young enough, she could also potentially be removed at that time.
I’ve written these in convenient bullet points, so I’m going to reiterate that comments need to be original. If there is a point you are not sure about, leave it out. Make sure that each point is well-reasoned. The realist in me is expecting that some horses removed, but we have to at least try to reduce the number.
*All photos from 2016.

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Wild Horse Mismanagement: Removing Horses in the Pryors*

One September 12, 17 the Billings BLM quietly released a scoping notice about removing 15-20 horses between the ages of 1-4. I say quietly, because I follow a large number of strong people that advocate for the Pryor horses and I’m only just now hearing about it. (It’s now September 22 to put that in perspective.) Here’s the original document if you’d like more information: Pryor Mountain Scoping Notice 9.14.17
Since they’re planning to remove from more cohorts in the past and it will be a “non-helicopter gather” you could say yay! They’re trying to be adaptive. Boom, case closed. No need to comment because it will be business as usual, a removal similar to those in the past, and continuation of PZP use in the Pryors.

Meriwether

Despite being on tier 3, Meriwether was removed because she had a hernia.

I’m here to tell you that removing horses is not a good management practice at this time, and you should always comment. Here’s why: genetics in the Pryor’s are already fragile. There’s a bias toward (dare I say it) Raven’s line, and I’m never going to let go the fact that Washakie and Baja have such limited representation even though they have been such strong producers. That’s just a brief summery of the Mountain Top bands, the Dryhead is even more limited due to geography and the large number of stallions compared to mares. Remove 15-20 horses, and you risk wiping out bloodlines.
I am also confident that a removal is not needed. With a combination of PZP and natural selection the over all population trend in the Pryors seems to be decreasing. Already this year has seen a negative population trend. Were not even to winter yet, so I anticipate that trend continuing. Until there is more data to show where if the population is decreasing I think making a decision to remove horses would be a hasty one.

Oregon

Since she’s most likely line-bred Oregon was a good choice, but it also means one less mare in the Dryhead.

If you plan to comment on the scoping notice here are some things to keep in mind:
1. With the opening of the Administrative Pastures AML could potentially go up. Encourage the BLM to continue to make range improvements to help reduce the need for removals.
2. Encourage the BLM to use the tier system to analyze the bloodlines from both the sire and dam. Once the three tiers are completed eliminate the horses on tier three from the removal process to insure that only the horses with least impact on genetics get removed.
3. Removing horses based on pre-exisiting conditions (i.e. hernia, body score) is unscientific.
4. Use PZP wisely. Make sure the use doesn’t permanently create infertile mares that don’t react to it as predicted. Learn from past mistakes and all that.
I’m intentionally keeping these brief for a couple reasons: 1. The deadline to mail (letter form, not email) comments is Oct. 6th, so I think it’s important to get information out for people to have time to make their comments thoughtful. 2. When writing letters quality over quantity is important. I know it’s really tempting to sign petitions, but they’re only counted as one comment.

Marlene

Most of Greta’s foals are dark bay/black so I was a little disappointed to see Marlene go.

If you want to help the horses, take this as an opportunity to research management in the Pryors. The comments that will hold the most weight are well researched, original, and scientific. Even if you don’t agree with the Billings BLM still be respectful and willing to compromise.
I’m not particularly hopeful that a removal can be prevented, but hopefully if enough that understand management comment the numbers can be reduced. Hearing about horses on tier three getting removed because of a hernia or body condition is getting old. On paper the Billings BLM has made steps toward adaptive management, so we as advocates need to encourage them to follow through on those steps and do what’s best for the horses in the long run.
*All photos of horses removed in 2015.

Wild Horse Mismanagement: Avoiding Facts

The great thing about facebook is it makes it easy connect with like-minded people. The downside of facebook, is it makes it really hard to fact check. With so many people following causes, you’re bound to have differences in opinion. Which is great during the initial discussions of management, but once people are considering how to respond to an EA, it’s really important to look at all the pros and cons.
It seems like advocates can get split between the people who think a management will save the horses, and people who think it’s bad news bears. The people that really want a management tool are really promoting the positives, and sometimes don’t want to hear about the negatives. Those that are against a management tool are ready to promote the negatives, and are not as willing to hear the positives of the tool.
For example, when I first started researching wild horse management, there was the 2009 helicopter round-up in the Pryors. It was hot, at least one mare coliced, and the Billings BLM had to end it early. To the surprise of the advocates, rather than cutting their losses, the Billings BLM decided to remove entire bands of horses, and for the sake of reaching their removal goal, picked random horses to adopt out rather than keep to their list.
Understandably, advocates were outraged about the way the roundup had been handled. They wanted to make sure that helicopters were never used in the Pryors again. It seemed like they completely forgot that they could have prevented the use of helicopters, which is a bit of a theme for the Pryors.
Here’s a bit of context: prior to the 2009 roundup, the Billings BLM released an EA with a plan to bait trap in 2008. At that time, advocates had more of an all or nothing management approach. If it’s not natural selection, it’s no good. I don’t think they were thinking like this at the time, but in a way the Billings BLM was trying for adaptive management before adaptive management was cool. That’s another theme in the Pryors: whenever management goes poorly, the Billing BLM points out that they tried to do something else all along.
If I just stopped the story here, you might think the Billings BLM had a point. The Pryors are the first wild horse range, so in order to understand management, you need a little more context. In 1994 there was a round-up in the Pryors that people seem to forget about. There’s a little more information in the Wild America episode Ginger Katherens filmed, but foals were killed during that round-up. Maybe it’s because Cloud is so romanticized, but people tend to forget that he was Phoenix’s second foal. Her first one died in that round up, so animosity between advocates and the BLM is understandable.
As management continued to develop, PZP was used in the Pryors. The idea was it would slow the population and prevent the need for round ups, but every management decision comes with a catch. When PZP was first started in the Pryors, there wasn’t as much information about it. Explaining the details of how PZP works is out of scope for this blog, but if you’re interested in summary, here’s a great resource. In the Pryors there are a handful of mares that are infertile. A couple mares developed abscesses due to the PZP dart. The Billings BLM won’t admit it’s PZP related, but they even briefly removed Phoenix to treat her abscess because it got so bad.

Aztec

Aztec has had 3 foals. Only Jasmine is still on the range. Rain was born out of season and removed. Breeze was also removed.

You can argue that these are wild animals so we can’t know for sure why it’s caused, but I do know that it’s listed on the Science Conservation Center’s facs page that if you give a mare more than five consecutive doses of PZP she will be sterile. The formula has changed since the early days of PZP, but you also have to be careful how you give PZP to yearlings.

Encore

Encore got separated with her band as a yearling, and ended up with a group of bachelors. She was not yet strong enough to rebuff their advances, so I think in her case PZP has helped her become mature before she eventually has her first foal.

I think PZP is where I started noticing the split between people who wanted to work with the BLM, and those that were against any form of management. I think it’s also about when the phrase management to extinction was coined. There was worry that with enough PZP uses all the mares would be sterile eventually whipping out the herds. Meanwhile, the end was not near for helicopters.
In 2012*, there was a bait trap removal in the Pryors. To the Billings BLM credit, it was their first attempt at adaptive management. On paper, it sounded good. Different from other removals, this one was only removing horses between the ages 1-3. Those horses were listed on tiers based on which would have the least amount of genetic impact if removed. There was no guarantee they would remove only the horses on the first tier, but they would at least make an effort to be choosier when removing horses.
It was a good idea on paper, but only looked at the amount of representation mares had when determining tiers. While you can’t tell 100% which horse is the sire, there’s some stallions that are the last of that particular line in the Pryors. Not all mares are loyal to their stallion, but unless the mare is younger I think it’s more common for a mare to be bred by her band stallion vs. a nearby stallion.

Electra

Some mares like Electra are considered non-responders to PZP. She has been a very prolific mare, but many of her offspring have been removed.

I think in a way, people were worried if they critiqued the tier system there would be another helicopter round-up, so I think there wasn’t many changes to the EA before the removal started. To the disappointment of advocates, the Billings BLM did not follow their criteria as well as they could have. Despite being on the last priority for removal, they removed a mare and foal because she was thin. They removed horses with hernias. It went against natural selection, and seemed like an excuse to meet their quota, especially when the Billings BLM kept on removing mare and foal pairs.
It might look like a covenant way to reach quota faster, and thus end the gather sooner, but foals aren’t counted in the population until they are yearlings. Since they don’t count in the population, they don’t count in the number of horses removed. Since the removal did not meet expectations, I think it caused a shift in the way advocates respond to the Billings BLM.
I think people realized that if advocates don’t want the wrong horses removed, they need to prevent removals. Different groups were choosing to meet with the Billings BLM before EAs were posted so they could find common ground, and make compromises about management. You have to use the tools you’re given, so increasing PZP is the next logical step.
It did not take long for the Billings BLM to produce a scoping notice about a potential increase in PZP for the Pryor horses. Rather than wait for more information, a group of advocates started speculating. The scoping notice referenced a model that only lets mare come off PZP for one year. A model that works for that particular herd, but since the Pryors had already had fertility issues due to PZP, not a model advocates were keen on using on the Pryor mares.
The Billings BLM was quick to reassure advocates that it would not be that model, and when the EA draft was posted, it provided a lot of options that seemed appropriate for an agency trying to move toward adaptive management. Some of the wording was a little confusing, but if it meant an end to removals, then an increase in PZP was needed.
**Not long after the PZP EA was shared, an EA about bait trapping was posted. It was a little disappointing for advocates. The initial purpose of increasing PZP made it seem like removals would be a thing of a past, but at least it was better than helicopters.
Since this was another EA about bait trapping, I think advocates understood it a little better than the one about PZP. The Billings BLM was using the tier system again, and most likely sires were also being taken into account. The Billings BLM also seemed a little more willing to take the recommendations into account.
Despite the modified tiers, the Billings BLM still removed a mare and foal for looking thin, horses with hernias, and the only two offspring of Baja and Washakie, an otherwise prolific couple that had bad luck with removals. The rational is that Washakie would surely have more foals, but when both the stallion and mare are both in their late teens that’s a lot of risk. Washakie’s had healthy foals since then, but I’m always worried there is going to be a winter where she doesn’t make it.

Washakie

There seems to be an idea that since Washakie has had foals most her life, she’s always going to have a foal. While thus far it’s been true, as a mare gets older it’s harder for her to have a foal and maintain resources for herself. I think there’s going to be a winter where her foal makes it, but Washakie doesn’t. I hope I’m wrong, though.

The next year Friends of Animals won a lawsuit against the Billings BLM. Legally, BLM field offices have to reassess AML within a certain number of years. Before the Billings BLM could continue management, they had evaluate AML and go through the NEPA process to finalize the new number.
I know I wasn’t the only one worried about the outcome of the litigation. It’s not a secret that summer grazing in the Pryors is deteriorating. The rest of the range is rocky desert. I was worried it would be an opportunity for the AML to be lowered in the Pryors.
Luckily, once all the litigation was finished, the AML stayed the same. To the credit of the Billings BLM, they have done a good job of initiating range improvement. Guzzlers help spread out the horses, and they were able to increase the size of the Dryhad. Nature has also had a more active role in management, so I think we’ll start to see PZP be the primary management tool in the Pryors.
While it’s important to use the best management for individual HMAs, the Pryors have been promoted as a model that can be used in all HMAs. Adaptive management requires compromise, but there’s a fine line between forgive and forget, and accepting past management mistakes and moving on. I think for the long-term health of the horses, it is important to make sure that past mistakes aren’t repeated.
I also share the entire context of more structured management in the Pryors because even though mares react differently to PZP and it’s been developed since the early days of using it in the Pryors, it’s still the same drug regardless of where it’s used in. Just because side affects haven’t been seen in other HMAs, doesn’t mean they’re not possible. You also can’t argue with facts, so even if a different HMA had better results with PZP than the Pryors it doesn’t change what happened in the Pryors. If I learned anything from my time interning at TCF, it’s that you need to have a holistic approach to management. You can’t have a holistic approach to management if you ignore the facts you disagree with.
*Bait trapping was used prior to 2012, but I’m mostly focusing on the management since I started following the herd.
** In both cases, management would start in 2015.

 

Hey there global warming!

The sky was stuck on twilight, but that was still enough to see the dusky blue outlines of icebergs as I flew over the Hudson Bay on the way to Iceland. Even with iconic images of bears jumping over or swimming between gaps, the ice floes were further apart than I expected. Maybe it was the lack of sleep due to a long day of travel making my imagination active, but I wondered if any bears were down there at that moment, wondering how far they would need to travel before their next time on land.
During one of our tours, our guide mentioned the winter had been mild. More rain than snow, and even with the fake snow machines, the two ski areas had a hard time that winter. To his surprise, we were still able to see puffins on the black sand beach and surrounding areas. When we got to a glacier, he mentioned that in the past two years, it had melted the same amount as the previous ten.

Puffins

While it was a lot of fun to see these birds, I wondered if they were still in the area due to global warming.

On my way home, Greenland was enveloped in clouds, but the parts I could see showed brown dirt. Not ice like I had been taught. Not long after getting home, I read a news article about a wildfire on Greenland baffling scientists.

Glacier

The different layers of black and white are from dirt collecting in the glacier as it causes soil to erode.

This is anecdotal evidence. I haven’t had a chance to look up the statistics of the glacier, and the idea that global warming caused the puffins to stay longer, and mild winter are educated guesses. But at some point enough antidotal evidence can be backed up with science. So here are the facts: 99% of climate scientists agree that global warming is real.
I’m, however, not here to convince you using science that global warming is real. There’s a lot of science to back that up, and it’s been around for a while. At risk of sounding harsh, if the idea that humans are messing up the planet is preposterous to you, then you’re choosing to ignore all the data that states otherwise. Maybe if science can’t persuade you, hearing about how people are impacted will help.
My first impressions of Iceland was the landscape reminded me of Ireland. The geysers and thermals remind me of Yellowstone. The waterfalls, and ocean remind me of Hawaii. We were only able to see a small part, but it had a lot to offer.

Waterfall

Going behind the waterfall was a highlight.

Iceland is an eclectic mix of traditions, and tourism. Even as they try to expand, there’s at least one community that caters to “the hidden people”. Before construction projects can take place, a representative of all things fey consults and approves the decision. It’s a unique way to solve modern problems while honoring old beliefs. A bit like trying to keep us accountable, and thinking about our impact on the environment.
Since there is so much geothermal activity, Icelanders are able to use their electricity sustainably. People from other regions in Europe move to Iceland because the electricity is so cheap. Some people enjoy the hot spring baths the thermals produce. The water that is piped to the city, only looses a few degrees of heat, if even.

National park

Seeing this national park was very interesting. It’s where they would do parliament.

Much of Iceland is heath land. Left natural or farmed. The only horse breed is the Icelandic horse. The cattle are sheep or dairy cows. The horses are left in the highlands for much of the year, and only inside to check their health before being ridden. Based on observation, it seems like a similar approach is taken to the other livestock. They are able to have much of their crops in greenhouses, and in regions where the ground does not freeze as much they have a longer growing season. Everything seems fresh, and healthy.
When settlers first came to Iceland they cut down trees for two reasons: 1. Pasture land. 2. Fire wood. Since grass in forests is not as strong as prairie grass, the practice was not sustainable. Icelanders are trying to make amends by planting wildflowers and trees. There seems to be a drive toward sustainability, and doing what is right for the environment.
I’m not trying to make stereotypes about Iceland based on a few days of tours, but it seems like for the most part they are trying to do what is best for the environment. Even with their hard work, they are still being impacted. Regardless of your beliefs on global warming, it does not hurt to help the environment.

“Fixing” the Wild Horse “Problem”*

Horse slaughter is an issue that the United States goes back and forth on. There’s a lot of neglected horses, both wild and domestic, and for some reason there’s people that think slaughter will somehow solve neglect. President Trump recently brought it up again reference the horses in holding, and although they did their best to cover both sides of the issue, the Washington Post wrote an article that implies that slaughter is the best way to fix the problem of horses in holding.
imageprint
Washington Times got one thing right: there are too many horses in holding (i.e. currently more horses in holding than in the wild). But assuming that roundups, and the removal of horses will continue, slaughter will just make room for more horses to leave the range. There’s a lot of science (including a report done by the National Academy of Science) to say that roundups are inhumane and the ways that the BLM calculates the populations of horses are outdated.
My proposal is something advocates have been promoting for years: put a pause on roundups. There’s usually one or two reasons for removing horses: 1. The range can’t support them, or 2. IT’S AN EMERGENCY!! (i.e. drought year). Another way of putting it is: the BLM is saving mustangs and burros from a painful, drawn out death due to starvation.
BLM horse 2
Assuming the BLM has a desire to use the best science to manage horses, they also have to acknowledge that nature manages populations through boom and busts. If the land can’t support all the horses one year, there’s a better chance that more horses can survive the next year. If horses don’t make it, that’s part of natural selection, and the rest of the herd will be stronger for it.
Roundups, and holding are the most expensive parts of management. By pausing roundups, that money can be spent on two things: 1. How can the populations be managed to prevent them from leaving the range? 2. What are ways to make the horses in holding more desirable to potential adopters?
The main rule of adaptive management is: unless it is natural, it MUST be reversible. If you geld a stallion, or sterilize a mare then you’re preventing them from having the ultimate purpose for a wild animal: reproduction. You don’t need to read the studies on the impacts of gelding on mustangs to know that people intentionally geld their domestic horses to make them act less like a stallion. Even if a mare is younger, if she has a foal by her side, she is usually treated as more experienced compared to another mare in her cohort.
The good news is, there already technology available, and by already I mean it’s been around for a long time. When used correctly, PZP is reversible and should give each mare a chance to have at least one foal. It’s been effective in smaller herds, so it’s past time to start using it in bigger herds.
It’s true, bigger herds have different challenges than smaller ones. It’s tempting to think that rounding them up to administer PZP is easier than finding the horses in the range to dart them, and if are rounding them up you might as well remove some. If you ask me, that’s the lazy way out.
Making larger herds feel less overwhelming is a two-step process. 1. Divide the range into smaller units. 2. If the range is still too big for the number of employees at a BLM field office, then look for volunteers. Once it’s determined how many volunteers each unit needs, the only potential initial cost would be to pay for their training, after that the only cost would be purchasing the materials needed to dart mares with PZP.
BLM horse 1
Although PZP has in impact on population, the ultimate goal is to manage solely using natural selection. Historically herds such as the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse range had years where no foals survived due to mountain lions. This year in the Pine Nut Mountain HMA, the majority of the foals have been lost to predation. Since communities often surround wild horse ranges, people need to learn to live with predators. I admit that I am not as well researched as I’d like, but I think for African lion populations, different types of fencing have been experimented with. Some ranchers have been getting different breeds of guard dogs to mimic wolf packs on their property and protect cattle. Regardless of the solution, relocation needs to be tried before hunting the predator.
Once steps have been taken to manage the population, range health should be evaluated. If the population is truly too high, then steps should be taken to increase range productivity. The most common way is adding guzzlers (water sources) for the horses and wildlife. Prescribed fires was proposed by the Billings BLM a few years ago, but as far as I know has not been used in the Pryors. Something I have not heard of is reseeding the range, or erosion control. In the Pryors, reseeding would be particularly beneficial near water. In the Pine Nut Mountains, reseeding would be beneficial where people have gone off-roading, as well as ways to prevent people from leaving the roads in their vehicles (looking at you ATVs).
If after making steps to reduce the number of horses, and improve the range the BLM still deems the number of horses too high, then bait trapping could use to remove a few horses that will have the least impact on genetics, and potential to get adopted. While it adds to the number in holding it’s at a slower rate. The BLM could focus on letting advocacy groups network about the horses, and thus increase the adoption rate for horses removed via bait trapping. However, unless it is completely known how removing a horse will impact genetics I’d rather see horses succumb to natural selection. It may sound crass, but management also needs to have a holistic approach.
Assuming the populations are being reduced on the range, that still leaves the thousands of horses in holding. To assess that, it first needs to be understood why horses aren’t being adopted. That’s a little messiest than trying to figure out how to manage the horses. The obvious problem, is even though the starting price for a mustang is less than a domestic horse, given a choice between a domestic horse that’s been trained, and has a pedigree a prospective horse owner is probably going to go for the domestic horse. The idea that herds like the Pryors have 100% adoption rate is also misleading. True, all horses in the Pryors have been adopted, but after the initial year, the adopter gets the title, and can essentially do what they want with the horse. With the BLM no longer checking on horses after a year, that puts pressure on advocacy groups to not only place horses in good homes initially, but also follow-up on and potentially rehome horses in bad situations.
I’m not going to try to debate if adoption requirements need to be higher, but at the very least, I’d like to see more effort to place the horses and burros in lasting homes. Maybe a year isn’t enough time to see if the owner is quality. At the very least, maybe there should be a requirement that the owner has to contact the BLM in the event that the horse is no longer a good fit. Advocates at Teddy Roosevelt National Park seem to have a good thing going where they get to approve potential adopters, so maybe there needs to be more effort to make sure each HMA has a strong advocacy group.
Unless people are or know an experienced trainer, potential adopters might balk at the idea of owning a mustang. The BLM already does some training, so it makes sense to expand it. There could be opportunities to partner with existing trainers, or save money by reaching out to volunteers. I know of some humane societies that let volunteers adopt an animal for free if they put in a certain amount of hours, so maybe something similar could be put into place for experienced trainers that are also volunteers.
There’s also the issue of mustangs and burros that are deemed “unadoptable”. Mustangs are adaptable, and can be trained in any riding discipline, but there’s some that the wild is the best place for them. Once they’re removed and branded they can’t be released, so a next best place for them would be a sanctuary. Periodically, I hear about the BLM accepting proposals for sanctuaries, but I rarely hear of new ones.
While I’d prefer that a mustangs be taken to a place similar to their rangeland, I think sanctuaries provide an opportunity for people unable to visit the western United States. The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is a well-known location in SD, so I think there could be room to expand the idea in the Midwest, and eastern states. It’s easier to visit a sanctuary than a horse range, so a visitor might learn a little more, potentially could be inspired to get involved, and possibly consider adopting a mustang.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that bait trapping, and PZP are less expensive than helicopter removals. Using predation to managed wildlife population costs nothing. I also know that roundups are the reason why there are horses in holding. To me it seems like a no brainer: if there are no more roundups it will give the BLM more time and budget to plan adaptive management, and a chance to get more horses in holding adopted.

*All photos from the BLM internet adoption site. Even though bidding is done for these horses, there are always horses available.

What’s in a name?

Sometimes, especially in the Pryors, there seems to be unnecessary drama surrounding what to name the new foals. There’s a lot of people in the community, and everyone wants their name to be the one. I get it, foaling season is an exciting time, but unless it’s a question of the sensitivity of the name, I don’t see much reason to get worked up about the outcome. I think part of being a strong advocate is evolving one’s views, so here’s the evolution of naming horses in the Pryors.
I’m not sure of the exact timeline prior to 2000, but there wasn’t an organized way of naming horses. Some of the first horses documented in the Pryors either didn’t have names, or given numbers. There’s even a handful of older horses currently in the range where their parentage isn’t fully known.
Starting in 2000, the Billings BLM and Mustang Center started giving the foals names that corresponded to the alphabet. Horses in 2000 were given names starting with A, this year foals are given names starting with R. It’s good in theory, names are easier to remember than numbers, but not every group was on the same page with the system. Sometimes, the horses got separate names by the Mustang Center and The Cloud Foundation. The Cloud Foundation has a special connection to those horses related to Raven, and thus wanted to give them fitting names.

Quanah and Halcyon

This is Halcyon’s 2016 colt Quanah.

Regardless of intentions, the double naming system was confusing to people following both pages. In more recent years, both advocacy groups have been working together to find the perfect name for the horses. There are always a few people who have their nicknames for the horses, and for some reason it seems like people are getting offended by the names more often. For those of you interested in naming a foal, here are some of the things I’ve noticed.
Who reported the foal?
The person who reported the foal gets some say, but it’s never been guaranteed that their name will get used. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the name, so the Mustang Center and TCF get final veto power.
How Spanish is the name?
The horses are known for having a Spanish heritage, so some feel it’s important to honor that when naming foals. There are not a lot of herds that have that history, so it’s a nod to the conquistadors that reintroduced horses.
Native American Names
The Crow Native Americans have a reservation almost adjacent to the range. They also have a strong history with the horses. The goal is to honor that, although sometimes there’s a fine line between that and cultural appropriation.
How well does it connect to the foal’s lineage?
Not only is there an effort to keep track of birth years, there’s also an effort to make it easier to remember the sire and dam of each foal. It’s not 100% certain which stallion the sire is, but especially for rare bloodlines it’s a good way to make connections.

Norma Jean and Greta

Greta’s foals are given German names, or names of actors/actresses.

Does it fit the foal?
Even with all this in mind, it’s important to see the gender, and personality of the foal before naming it. Personally, I think there’s sometimes too much of a rush to name a foal. There was one year in particular that the foals had names, only for a handful of them to get changed. I’ve already mentioned the confusion of double names, so the easiest way to avoid confusion is to name them the right name the first time.

Outlaw

Sometimes names are given before it’s been confirmed if it’s a filly or colt. However, Outlaw is still a good fit.

Did you submit the name?
You’d think this would go without saying, but the Mustang Center might not know someone is interested in being part of the discussion if they don’t take initiative. Communication is a two-way street. It might be a good idea to submit the name while reporting the foal to avoid misunderstandings.
While it’s a bummer when names don’t get used, it’s only as dramatic as you make it. No one is ever going to convince me that the horses care what they get named. I think no matter how disappointing it is if someone’s name does not get used, it’s important to handle it with grace. There’s a point where we need to realize that a name is just a name. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there are bigger things to worry about than what a horse is named. If we make names into a big deal, we risk perpetuating the stereotype that advocates are subjective, and can’t make appropriate management decisions.
To quote Shakespeare: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Reno “Mustangs”

I know the Virginia Range horses have a following, but I can’t bring myself to call the horses that live in Reno wild. It’s true, they form bands, woo mares, and nurse even though they are larger than their dams, but the most serious confrontations I have seen have been about food.
The first time I saw hay I thought it was a mistake. Maybe someone drove through, and it fell off a trailer. The second time, I thought it was to bait a band wandering residential streets and move them to a safer location. More cars showed up, and I realized they were deliberately spreading the hay around. One of them even got out and started petting a stallion. It was the first time in a while I was worried that stallions would get too close while sparing. When a stallion walked up to my car and sniffed my window, I decided I’d try again in the evening. I now have a horse sized nose print on my car, so I guess the silver lining is some of the pollen has smeared off.

Food conflict

This roan was especially protective of the feed.

I returned in late afternoon, and another horse approached my car. The rest of the band followed. Since they had been wary the last time I saw them, I knew they were anticipating treats. Much like you would with a domestic horse, I ended up clicking at them to move. There were two girls riding bikes, and I kept an eye on them as they pet one of the horses. I was worried for them. Horses can be unpredictable.
The girls left, and a man drove up in his truck. The horses were drawn to him, and he began tossing carrots from his truck.
As the horses vied for the treats, it attracted the attention of bachelors. A sorrel came first, but a bay pinto seemed very protective of his black bachelor friend, and territory. The pinto pawed the ground and skidded to a halt. The sorrel came over, and went through the characteristic ritual of sniffing poop and posturing.

Bachelors spar

The two bachelors spar over carrots.

The man tossed a few more carrots, and after grabbing one, the pinto snaked the black bachelor away. The sorrel tried to approach the truck again, but a band stallion chased him. Although I was too far away for good photos, the force of the fight caused pieces of carrot to fly, and the band stallion almost fell over.

Bachelor and band stallion

Not the best photo, but the band stallion was not happy with the bachelor. You can see the pieces of carrots as they spar.

I think people tend to have a savior complex when it comes to mustangs. If their ribs are seen at all, then it’s tempting to think they need more food. But even when it was just hay the horses were eager to have it all to themselves. If they’re expending so much energy fighting for it, is it really worth the extra calories?
I’m sure the people feeding the horses have good intentions, but if I’m being honest the answer is no. Horses have sensitive digestion systems. If something does not agree with them, you risk colic. If a horse gets too sick, especially a mustang, they may need to be put down.
Horses need time to get used to new food, but these horses greedily went after the carrots. Assuming that it’s not the first time someone’s fed them carrots before, you risk the horses becoming dependent on the idea that a car means food. At the very least, you risk damage to the vehicle. At most, a horse or a person gets hurt.

Bachelor

The sorrel bachelor decided to move somewhere else.

Those kids petting the wild horse may seem like a sweat moment, but that horse is still a stallion. Maybe that bachelor would have been aware and tolerated the girls, but the band stallion he was near may have only seen him as a potential threat to his mares. If those girls got hurt, the horse that caused them harm might be labeled as aggressive. Maybe they would try to relocate it but it’s easier to put down a large animal.
There are a lot of people trying to prove that mustangs are feral. If we are going to say that on a scientific level the horses are wildlife, we need to treat them as such. The Virginia Range horses have a reputation for being stray wildlife, and by feeding and petting them that perpetuates the stereotype. The people who feed and pet them aren’t doing the horses any services.
It almost makes it seem worth it to drive to the Pine Nuts to see horses, but the Pine Nut Ponies don’t need my help. There’s a large following for the Pine Nut Ponies with committed photographers and advocates that understand management practices.
I’m not saying that there aren’t advocacy groups like that for the Virginia Range horses, but I find it very hard to find information about them. Most of what I can find about the horses is a tour group, or information that’s outdated. Maybe I’m looking in all the wrong places, but if I plan on being a conservation photographer someday, I might as well take advantage of living in NV.

Bay bachelor

I opened my window for a photo and this guy wandered over.

I can’t bring myself to call the Virginia Range horses wild, but I can’t bring myself to call them feral either. Free roaming wild horses seems to clinical, because technically they aren’t protected under the Wild Horse and Burro act. For now, mustangs seems like a good compromise until I decide exactly how to feel about them.
I don’t know how many people actually read my blog, but maybe it will reach someone who can either educate others about keeping mustangs’ behaviors wild, or educate me that it is appropriate to feed or touch mustangs. I don’t anticipate changing my mind, but I’m always game to hear from other’s opinions. If not, I’ll just keep on reporting what I see. Hopefully people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

Appropriate or Inappropriate?

When I first started my blog I decided that I wanted to make it appropriate for all ages. If I was going to bring up copulation, it was going to be in the most euphemized terms available or not at all. On a scientific level, I would make a mental note about possible sires, and potential birth-dates, but I would shy away from even taking a picture of the event.
As I had more opportunities to observe horses, I started viewing it in more of a scientific perspective. I was shifting my writing style in more of an essay or short narrative style, creating several posts for one trip rather than one post for the entire trip. It left me more freedom to add details I normally would have felt were out of scope for the post. One of the freedoms was talking about more behaviors, including stallions courting their mares.
With those behaviors, the courtship was as far as it would get. I was still a little timid about taking pictures of a mare being bred. I knew the horses didn’t care if they were seen, it still felt intrusive. I can never resist seeing a mare sass her stallion, or the stallion nuzzling her affectionately, but once he mounts her I start to lose interest.

Zorro and Honey

Zorro courts Honey.

As I started visiting the Pine Nut horses, my perspective changed. It wasn’t just band stallions, or colts that were almost ready to be bachelors courting mares, the yearlings in the Pine Nut herd were brazen. Not only were they trying to court mares, they weren’t receiving as much discipline for the behavior as I would expect.

Cree and mare

The yearling Cree flirts with a mare.

Rather than the routine behavior of the band stallion breeding his mares, the Pine Nut Ponies were giving me a story to tell. I had already decided that while I was an outdoor educator I would take advantage of traveling different places to get photos of wildlife. That way, if I got burned out of educating youth outdoors I could be a conservation photographer.
I’m a firm believer that not only do conservation photographers have to tell a story, they also have to provide facts. It’s a fine balance that involves telling the entire story. The full story is: sex is natural. To find the balance between my original goal of keeping it appropriate, and telling the full story I try not to include photos where there is obvious genitalia. Sometimes it involves creative cropping, but I’d still rather do my best to tell the full story.
As I came to the conclusion, I started wondering: why does sex have a stigma? The horses clearly don’t care. I’d be surprised if other animals care. To them it’s a part of seasonal life. My current theory is that the desire to be uncomfortable at the thought of sex is a human construct.
I’m not sure if sex is inappropriate or the way it is talked about is. If a kid is at an age where they still think the opposite gender has cooties, it doesn’t mean the subject should be avoided. If we avoid it the stigma stays there. Avoid a subject enough, the stigma grows.
That doesn’t mean I’m interested in hearing about everyone’s sex life, but when it’s related to wildlife I don’t plan to avoid it. I am interested in showing all aspects of life and behavior. I think there are ways of putting it scientifically to make the language more acceptable, while still being honest.

Shorty falls Short

Traveling down the rocky roads to the Pine Nut horses, I never know exactly what I’ll get. The decision on where I go depends on the roads, so when I saw my usual haunt was a bit too overgrown for comfort, I decided to go a way I hadn’t been in a while.
It took me down to a valley that was surprisingly green. I stopped when I saw horses, and decided the best way to safely hike through the tall vegetation. So I wouldn’t risk startling a rattlesnake, I walked up a hill with less vegetation.
The closer I got I was able to recognize Mystique’s band. There was also another band I recognized as Blondie’s. As I walked a little further to try to see the horses better, I also realized Shorty’s band was nearby.

Shorty and mares

Shorty stays close to his mares.

It’s starting to get late enough in spring that mares are more consistently in heat, and Shorty was persistently wooing a black mare. Arching her neck slightly, like a more feminine version of a band stallion, she walked away from him.
Shorty was persistent, even trying to mount her, so she moved faster. He managed to keep up with her while staying on her back, but couldn’t quite get close enough to copulate.

Shorty and mare

Unfortunately for Shorty, she wouldn’t stop moving.

I was torn between being impressed with his balance, amused, and irritated on the mare’s behalf. Some of the other horses in the band were starting to notice, including one of his sons. As the son approached, Shorty was forced to give up and respond to him.
As his son put himself between Shorty and the mare, I was surprised Shorty didn’t confront him. The son nibbled the mare’s side, but it didn’t seem opportunistic to me. Rather than court the mare himself, it seemed like he was comforting her. Perhaps thinking safety in numbers, she moved closer to the rest of the mares.

Shorty and son

Shorty lets his son get between him and the mare.

A few moments later, a different mare was being courted by a Shorty son. Although she was not as aggressive she also shifted her weight and moved so he was unsuccessful. When Shorty realized what was going on, he pinned his ears. The two horses separated, but she did not seem happy to see Shorty either.
I got distracted by some flowers, and when I turned back, a similar scene was unfolding. This time, the son was trying to mount a mare from the side. He continued to sweat talk her, but it wasn’t surprising she was unimpressed.
As I spend more time with the Pine Nut Ponies, the more endearing I find them. For such a large band, you’d think at least one of his mares would be interested in him, but this is the first time I’ve seen him even attempt to breed them. I’m not sure exactly how old Shorty is, but apparently he’s currently the oldest band stallion. I anticipate he’s going to be transitioning to life as a bachelor soon, but hopefully not for a few more years. The mares still seem to be bonded with him, but not currently in the way he’d like.

Blondie’s Blues*

Since the Pine Nut Range is small, there are only a few main roads that go through it. One travels along a ridge, and is easier to see distant bands, the other travels down into a valley. Usually I prefer the former road, but the middle is getting over grown, and I’m starting to worry about the tough plants scratching my car or getting a flat tire on a hidden rock. I hadn’t been down the other road in a while, so I decided to test it out.
As I started down, I realized that although I could see the rocks better, they were bigger and there were more of them. As long as the vegetation did not get too much thicker or higher, I wondered if it would be a better idea to prioritize the other road on future trips.
Finally I made it down, and was surprised at how green it was. With so much tall grass, I might have missed seeing horses if some hadn’t still been standing. It made deciding where to park slightly more difficult. I always try to get as close as I can to horses before hiking, but all the grass could easily hide a rattlesnake if I wasn’t careful. Although the road looked clear of vegetation I still wanted to be careful where I parked so my exhaust wouldn’t accidentally cause a fire.
I decided to park closer to horses anyway, and evaluate where to hike when I got out. The section of grass meandered like a river, so I wondered if there was a seasonal wetland there. It was dry now, but the vegetation on either side looked more typical of the rest of the range. On one side was a hill, so I decided to try to approach on higher ground toward the horses.

Mystique's band

I always enjoy seeing this band.

It didn’t help make the grass seem smaller, but it did help to start make the bands seem more separate. True to form, Mystique’s band was a little apart from the larger group of horses. As usual when I see a group of sorrels, I deliberate between Shorty and Blondie’s bands.
When I saw Blondie, I deliberated no further. I was a little more excited. The last time I’d seen Blondie’s band Elisa was less than a week old, and the band was protective. I knew it would be hard to see a small foal in the grass, but I was hopeful the band would be a little more comfortable.
Trying to avoid the taller grass while still respecting the horses’ space, I tried to find a spot where it would be easier to see the horses. As I continued, I realized I was also looking at Shorty’s band. He was trying to woo a mare, and it made it a tough call do decide if I wanted to stay put or keep on going. I watched as he and his sons took turns courting, then tried to find a better spot for Blondie’s band.
In Blondie’s band, it was the yearling colts that were brazen. Although Cree stands out a little more than Joker, they spent equal amounts of time approaching mares. Normally it’s the band stallion’s job to discipline foals, but the mares were sending the colts to the perimeter of the band.
As the drama heated up in the other bands, Mystique decided it was time to move his smaller one slightly further away. Sydney is normally a little more independent, but even she didn’t seem to mind the change. She stuck close to Treasure while Mystique checked over his shoulder at the other bands.
With the bands so close, horses from Shorty’s band would mix with Blondie’s band. Finally starting to get the message that Blondie’s mares weren’t interested, Cree decided to say ‘hi’ to a mare that had wandered over.

Cree and mare

Cree greets a mare flirting from another band.

Step one: touching noses was a success, but Cree didn’t seem to know that you also have to talk to a mare to see if she’s interested. When she didn’t automatically let him mount her he stuck out, which of course, made her cranky.

Striking out

Cree gets a little impatient when the mare is not interested.

Despite her turning away and pinning her ears, Cree refused to give up. The reward to his continued persistence was a slight buck to the chest. The commotion caused daddy Blondie to come over.

Rejected

The mare warns Cree with a small buck.

Rather than come to his son’s aid, Blondie had finally lost patience. Chasing the mare, and Cree away she fled to Shorty’s band. That got Shorty’s attention, and he wasn’t interested in an adolescent youth that thinks he’s the greatest gift to mares, so Cree made the wisest move in those few minutes. Heading back to Blondie’s band, Cree took a break from antagonizing mares.

Blondie chase

Blondie chased both Cree and the mare away.

Most colts become bachelors at two, but once they develop an interest in mares it doesn’t take too long for the band stallion to take notice. Joker and Cree are both precocious, so I have no doubt they’ll transition well to being bachelors even if they do end up being a little young. The transition to being a bachelor is also a process.

Blondie chase 2

Cree tried to appease Blondie, but his sire was pretty cranky.

I have a feeling if there hadn’t been other bands in the area Cree and Joker would have been pushed completely out of Blondie’s, but that doesn’t mean it would have been a permanent change. Nor does it mean they would have joined a bachelor group right away. Being apart from the band but nearby can be a good first step to becoming a bachelor, and although it can be hard for people to see it, it’s a natural part of being a wild horse.

*Nothing to do with the band stallion Blue, more’s the pity.

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