Advocacy Oneupmanship

If you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that I enjoy travel. If I could I’d visit all areas with wild horses, but the more I see mustangs the more I try to advocate for each herd. With so much going on with wild horse management, it can be hard to prioritize how to respond to each field office.
As I’ve been thinking about the most recent EA int he Pryors I realized I’m feeling a bit burnt out. I could limit the amount of HMAs I advocate for, but the more I respond to different field offices, the more I can predict how they will respond to advocates. What worries me more is how advocates respond to one another.
I enjoy social media for its ability to provide a venue for thoughtful discussion, but it also means I run into all kinds of people on public pages. Some of them are willing to have respectful discussion, but not all of them are as willing to listen. That’s probably my hint to take a break from social media, but if I don’t hear from other people I risk my opinion becoming biased. I try to be respectful and open-minded, but it is hard not to get discouraged when people are argumentative, and I can tell from their comments that they are not reading mine in their entirety. I’ve loved getting to know the communities that advocate for different herds, and would be disappointed if I thought it was time to stop being so active on social media, so I thought I would post techniques on how to have quality conversations.
1. Let go of the idea that visiting HMAs matters more than critical thinking. As the name of this post indicates, if a debate isn’t going the way someone wants it to it often deteriorates into a competition to see who has the most experience with wild horses. Many of the most knowledgeable advocates have limited means to visit the Pryors, so I try not to count people out just because they have less first hand experience than I do.
2. A profile picture shows very little information about someone. If someone looks young that doesn’t mean they lack knowledge. Often people post pictures with their friends, family, and sometimes of their own kids. You can’t know for sure how old someone is from their profile, and if you are letting your inference on that age interfere with the way you respond to them that’s called ageism. Ageism is a type of discrimination.
3. Show me, don’t tell me. As mentioned before, one’s credentials don’t mean much to me if you can’t also show me you are capable of utilizing critical thinking. If you provide quality facts and information I can use my own critical thinking to determine if you are a good source. If you start off by letting me know how creditable, then to me it doesn’t look like you are as confident in your information as you say you are.
I enjoy the people who leave comments on this page. I know that to the people that read this blog I am probably preaching to the choir. I also know that blogging is as close to writing a diary as I’ll ever get, except everyone that wants to can read it. This post aside, the community overall is wonderful. I love seeing the discussions this blog generates, and look forward to continuing to get to know people from around the world, but sometimes you have to get your thoughts down and hope for the best. Self care is important, so if anyone else fills a bit tired let me know how to help.

Greta q

I don’t actually have a great way to connect this photo to the post. Foals make everything better, I guess.


Removal and PZP in the Pryors

The Billings BLM is accepting comments on a bait/water trap removal and PZP use in the Pryors until February 16th. You can find the documents associated with the EA here. If you plan on making comments, please read the EA in its entirety. Please make sure your comments are well researched, and your own. Please make sure your comments are objective and based on sound science.
Since comments that are too similar are often counted as one, I am intentionally not going over all of the EA in this post. To help encourage people to make write their own letters, I am also going to keep the points on how to respond to the EA brief. At risk of sounding crass:if you are an advocate that copies and pastes talking points into a letter, you are  doing a disservice to the horses. To BLM personnel and advocates alike, it makes it look like you don’t care enough to do your own research and take the time to make thoughtful contributions.
Disclaimer about making comments aside, the EA has two management points: removals, and PZP. The PZP plan is fantastic. Participating in the NEPA process is all about compromise, so let the Billings BLM have their modifications to PZP. Let them know how well the plan looks on paper.
The removal makes it harder to know how to 
compromise. With a (0) to (-) growth rate it is too soon to see if a removal is necessary. The challenge is, BLM isn’t required to do exactly what the public wants. They’re required to take all comments into consideration and make the management decision that they feel will be the most scientific. Regardless of what the public wants, there is a high possibility that a removal will happen in 2018.
This is the part where it gets tricky. Advocates need to find a balance of promoting a 2019 removal, while finding ways to control the process if a removal in 2018 does take place. It’s a balance of standing up for what is best for the horses in the long run, while maintaining obtainable goals.
If advocates don’t acknowledge the high possibility of a 2018 removal, then horses will be removed anyway. We risk having horses removed solely based on how many foals a mare has had, and if that line is potentially inbred. That leaves it open for a lot of poor management decisions if horses are removed.
To prevent that from happening, encourage the Billings BLM to significantly reduce the number of horses removed this year. There’s only about 5 that could be removed with minimal loss of genetics at this time. Remind them to consider the most likely sire when making management decisions. Dare I say it: in the long run color is the least important factor when determining long-term herd health. That means if a removal does take place horses like Pride need to be a priority for removal. Make sure when you list the horses that would have the least impact if removed, you make it clear why and how you made those objective decisions.
Part 2 of trying to reduce the number of horses is reminding the Billings BLM of range improvements. Praise them for guzzlers, and encourage them to continue to make water improvements. Ask them to reseed portions of the range, and control erosion especially around ponds. I think when advocates shot down prescribed fires it was a subjective decision, not an objective one. Ask the Billings BLM to revisit that management tool and it could prevent a wide-spread fire that would be difficult to control, and rejuvenate forage in a safer method.
The rest is up to you. I can’t stress enough the importance of making objective, science based comments. It is better to take the time to make comments well, than to send them at all. Continue to help the Pryors lead the way toward true adaptive management in a respectful and scientific way.

Hopi Q and Orielle

There are only about 5 horses that would have minimal impact on genetics if removed: Pride, Oak, Pegasus, Quanah, and Quaid. Once those horses are determined, all others need to be taken out of consideration. 

Using Motorized Vehicles in the Pryors

Edit: The Billings BLM provided clarification on their facebook page. Apparently the hearing happens every year, but I hadn’t heard of it happening before. If those that can’t attend the hearing still wish to comment, they can mail a comment to the Billings BLM by February 2nd.

On February 2nd the Billings BLM is having a public hearing about the use of motorized vehicles when managing the horses in the Pryors. More information about the date and time can be found here, but I thought I would provide more information about what that might mean for the horses.
Since the Pryors were the first US designated horse range, they have seen a plethora of management. I’m not exactly sure how the horses were managed when the range was first being established. I started paying attention to management in the Pryors around 2009, so for early information I recommend contacting the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center.


The Pryors has two main regions: the mountain top, and Dryhead.

When management tools became more modern, it seemed like a pattern emerged when the Billings BLM wrote their EAs. Step one: recommend an adaptive management technique such as PZP or bait trapping. Step two: decide not to use new management due to negative response from public. Step three: use a less desirable management tool such as helicopters while acting like the public forced the BLM to make that decision.
For example, when PZP was first being used it was rightly criticized because there were risks to mares. The formula is now safer, and now if there are risks it is due to operating error. When bait trapping was first proposed, it was hypothesized that the large concentration of horses near the trap site due to the salt or mineral lick used to bait the horses was causing an increase in predation. Now bait trapping is viewed as the most humane way to remove horses.
The helicopter round-up in 2009 provided a wake up call for advocates. Done in fall, there were still very young foals and the run down the mountain caused foot issues, and even a few cases of colic. With high temperatures, the Billings BLM was forced to stop the round-up early. Rather than cutting their losses, the Billings BLM decided to remove entire bands from the Forest Service without regard to genetics. Luckily The Cloud Foundation and others stepped in to help give the horses a great lasting home.

Pococeno and Nomad

Older horses like Pococeno (left) likely remember the trauma of the last helicopter round-up.

After that, advocates decided that there should never be a helicopter round-up in the Pryors ever again. If they wanted to make an impact, they had to change the way the communicated with the Billings BLM. Rather than being reactive, and waiting for the BLM to release EAs, advocates have been trying to have more meetings to influence what goes into the EA. Advocates would need to make compromises to make small steps toward adaptive management to prevent management like what happened in 2009.
Since then the horses have only been managed with PZP and bait trap removals. An increase in natural selection has seen a 0 and (-) growth rate in the last two years. As horses get older, and there are fewer foals being born and surviving I’d guess those trends are going to continue. Management isn’t currently perfect, but it’s making good progress.
While there are other uses for motorized vehicles in management, it still makes me worry that there is potential to undo the work of advocates. If the Billings BLM wants to truly market themselves as a pioneer of adaptive management, then I would think this could be an opportunity to take the use of helicopters off the table completely.


Helicopter round-ups are especially stressful for mares with foals.

You could argue that aircraft help do population counts, or assess range conditions, but to me that excuse seems like a cop-out. There are no substitute for physically being on the range to assess condition, and the horses are so well documented that getting an exact number of the population is only guess-work in winter when the horses are more spread out and elusive. Even then, you can make inferences about how old a horse was, their condition at the last sighting, and how long ago that sighting was. In regard to wild horse management, using aircraft doesn’t seem realistic to me.
While I would love to see all the horses in the Pryors stay free, the fact is there is only a finite amount of summer grazing. Unless the 0 to (-) population growth continues, bait trapping will continue. Occasionally a foal will be separated from its mother, and if it is too young to survive without milk, then efforts are made to remove it from the mountain and adopt it. For now, trucks and trailers will be a part of management.


Unless there is a way to increase summer grazing, and consequently AML, management is needed in the Pryors.

I don’t know exactly what the Billings BLM will propose after hearing from the public. I’m not even sure if they are only looking for feedback from local communities, or if they will eventually provide more information in the form of an EA so the public can utilize the NEPA process. I do know that advocates need to start thinking about the possibilities now, so they can be prepared if there is an EA.
If you are able to comment, remember that each field office manages horses differently. Make sure your comments are well grounded in facts, objective, and thoughtful. Regardless of how you think BLM treat the public lead by example and show a willingness to listen, compromise, and be respectful. If you have more information I would love to hear it, and I will try to post more information hear as I learn more.

The Lifecycle of a Wild Stallion

For people who aren’t familiar with wild horses, it can be tempting to compare them to domestic horses. At first glance they look like domestic horses: shiny coats, surprisingly clean coats, fit, but compared to domestic horses mustangs have a complex society.
In domestic settings, horses spend time in pastures or stalls. If they’re in pastures they are usually separated based on if they are mares, geldings, or stallions. They still vie for dominance, and they still form bonds, but it prevents them from forming bands like in the wild.


While a formidable stallion, Fiesta spent his life as a satellite stallion.

In the wild, an animals goal is to reproduce. Usually this is explained as survival of the fittest, but the ecological definition of fitness isn’t limited to strength. Take Fiesta, for example. He was a feisty stallion that never backed down from a fight. He was more than capable, but never the band stallion always the satellite. Sometimes satellite stallions stay because they can can occasionally gain breeding rights, but I once saw Fiesta pin his ears at a mare when she said hello, so I’d guess the realisticness of him successfully procreating are null. He may have been physically fit, but not from a genetic perspective.
Fiesta was physically fit despite being a lighter built stallion, but other’s like the Forest Service stallions have a bulkier body type. Grijala is one such stallion, and when he was first vying for mares he fought valiantly for Lakota’s mares. So valiantly that Lakota broke his leg and had to be put down.


Despite his size, Grijala is a gentle giant.

For a while people harbored animosity toward him, but when he later lost the band he spent ample time as a bachelor. Despite his bulky size, Grijala became known for taking younger bachelors under his wing. He would play with them like slow motion sumo wrestlers.
He now has the mares Graciana and Oceana. Despite his large stature, he keeps his band away from others. He’s gentle with the mares, and still takes time to play with the bachelors. If he continues to attract young mares, he has a pretty good chance of being genetically fit.
Stallions, especially, seem interested in passing on their genes. To do that, you need mares. How a stallion defends his band varies, but steps each stallion takes to gain mares can be similar.
Step one: being born. It might seem a tad obvious, but you don’t get too far in life without a strong mother. She and her band-mates help care and protect him, but only she can provide nutritious milk.
As he gets older, he gets stronger, and the others in his band teach him how to survive in the wild. Not just how and where to find food, but how to protect a band, woo mares, and nurture foals. Usually by two, a stallion is starting to become interested in mares.
Regardless of how lovingly the band stallion looked after a colt, once that colt becomes interested in mares he becomes competition. To eliminate that competition, the band stallion will force the colt to become a bachelor.

Pine Nut bachalors

This is an example of a bachelor band in the Pine Nuts. Big Red (far right) is at an age where he is going back and forth between being interested in having his first band, but not exactly strong enough to keep them.

Often to help ease the change, the band stallion will let colts play with bachelors temporarily. Becoming is a bachelor is a natural part of growing up for a stallion, and does not mean the band stallion suddenly is being aggressive to the colt. It’s a bit parents visiting colleges with their high-school student. It helps them get used to the type of play bachelors have, and become independent.
The exact age a colt becomes a bachelor varies depending on the band stallion, but the average age is 2-3 years old. How much “tough love” the stallion and band needs to have depends on how independent the colt had been up to that point. Sometimes, a colt will spend more and more time with bachelors until he naturally ends up a bachelor. Other colts need a little more enthusiasm from the band stallion. Since it usually involves snaking and posturing I’m going to reiterate: this is not because the band stallion is being violent. If a human is having a hard time transitioning into being an adult, the parents use words, horses communicate those boundaries with body language.
Once a bachelor, a stallion decides which stallion(s) to find companionship with. How many bachelors each stallion spends time with depends on the personality of the horse. If a horse is on his own, that doesn’t automatically mean doom and gloom for him. Like people, horses have different personalities. Some enjoy playing non-stop, while others occasionally spend time alone.
When stallions first become bachelors, they often find another stallion to take them under their proverbial wing. If the new bachelor is outgoing, they tend to adapt well, if he is more reserved, then it might be a little overwhelming for him. It’s not unusual to see a young bachelor with only one or two other horses, or even apart from a large group.
The process of deciding how much to play, where to go, and which horses to spend time with is all part of helping young bachelors gain confidence. While play can look rough to those familiar with domestic horses, it lets the bachelors practice the moves they will need as band stallions.
As the bachelors get older, they begin to get protective of younger bachelors. You might see an older stallion snake a group away, or step in if he thinks play is too rough. Moves that he would use on wayward mares, or other bachelors being too rough on a colt in his band.
The next step in becoming a band stallion is dogging a band. Dogging means finding mares that the stallion is interested in and trying to wear the band stallion out. If there are other stallions interested in the band, the band stallion might let a stallion become a satellite stallion. Also known as lieutenant stallion, a satellite stallion helps protect the band from threats. It’s the same responsibility of being band stallion, minus the breeding rights.
This is where a bachelor stallion’s path to becoming a band stallion can deviate. Becoming a satellite at least gains closer proximity, but there’s still no guarantee they’ll pass on their genes. Other bachelors perfect the art of dogging.
Stallions communicate with stud piles. That’s a polite way to say that when a stallion poops it communicates all kinds of information. The strongest stallions wants his “apples” on top. It’s how every greeting ritual starts. Often if another stallion gets to close to a band, the band stallion will contribute as the first warning.
The bachelor then has two choices: they can heed that warning and view it as a challenge. Sometimes, even if a bachelor moves away from the band, he can take advantage of the situation. If the band stallion really wants to make a point, he’ll chase the bachelor away. In that case, it’s a question of which horse has the most stamina.
Regardless of how a bachelor attempt to wear down a band stallion, dominance displays are similar. Step one: challenge a stallion by contributing to a stud pile. When the other stallion comes over, sniff noses to greet each other. This also can be accompanied by sniffing flanks and the stud pile. I think this steps helps each stallion assess the health and threat level other horses posses.
Once all the introductions are made, it’s a test of bravado. This is another instance where people used to domestic horses might misunderstand the situation. If you’re only looking at the rearing and listening to the squeals it’s dramatic, but most of it is about body language.
Sparing can happen fast, but catching it in still photography reveals that the two stallions rarely harm each other. When they rear, ample space is between their front hooves, and if a stallion bucks, the other horse is agile enough to avoid damaging blows. Neither stallion wants to get hurt, so they are careful to know when to concede.
When a bachelor gains a band, he has to decide how to protect them. Often he will try to behave how his band stallion showed him, but it also depends on the mares. If he has a strong lead mare, she will also show him what is expected of him, and how to be a wise, nurturing stallion.
Ideally, a stallion will be a band stallion for the majority of his life, thus giving him the most time to pass on his genes. The older he gets, the harder this becomes. One of the last stages of a stallions lifecycle is losing his band for the final time.
Different stallions respond differently to losing their band. Some enjoy the break, and become mentors for new bachelors. Some aren’t as willing to give up their band. Others chose to be by themselves, and quietly disappear over the winter.


After having such a large band, I’m sure being a bachelor is like being retired for Socks. He spends his time with Little Socks, his son, or alone. Regardless, he seems content.

Watching band stallions become bachelors for the last time is hard on those who have known the stallion their entire life, but it is a part of natural selection. I think even the horses that take it the hardest understand that their time has come. Being a band stallion requires a lot of strength, so being a bachelor again has to be a reprieve in some way.
Despite all their sparing, stallions live long lives for wildlife. On average, stallions live well into their late teens to early twenties. There’s plenty of sorrow, maybe a foal dies, he losses a mare, or his entire band, but it’s all natural. There’s also no shame in a stallion becoming a bachelor. Even if sparing can look dramatic to us, they spend a lot of their life in play. Instead of feeling sorry for them as bachelors or if we think they might get hurt, let’s celebrate the fact that these guys are strong enough to live in the wild.

2017 in Review

2017 was a year for wanderlust. In February I explored Oregon with a friend. We started the trip hiking, snowshoeing, exploring mountain views and waterfalls. We ended it near Burns, OR, where we tried to find some mustangs. We had heard mixed things about how much snow the Pacific Northwest was receiving, so we tried hiking in Palomino Buttes HMA first.


One of the many views while snowshoeing in Oregon.

Palomino Buttes

I’m sure Palomino Buttes is a beautiful place, but in the winter it was a bit of a mess.

There was  a thin layer of snow covering puddles of frigid water, so we decided to go back to the car and reevaluate. Seeing minimal signs of mustangs, we decided to try South Steens HMA. It was a litter further from amenities, but we were determined to see horses and camp.

South Steens

Liberty and Noah were often nearby.

After a brief debate about directions we found the range. Surprisingly, the range barely had snow. With a lot more horse sign, we found a sheltered campsite, put up our tent, and looked for horses.
For the next couple days, we saw Liberty and Noah by our camp. The other horses were a bit more skittish, but with ample hiking we were able to see a lot of the range. The horses were colorful and deft. Thick coats protected them the cold, and thick hooves protected them from the sharp rocks in their habitat. I fell in love with the charismatic horses, but hoped my next trip would be in a warmer season.
Back in Minnesota, I had the fun experience of seeing a hawk on a fresh kill. With a good view from the window, the natural resource student in me was giddy to see it pant as it recovered from the hunt, remove the feathers, and delicately eat everything of nutritional value. Not everyone appreciates  hunting, but I found it a natural part of the urban ecosystem.


I think this sharp-shinned hawk had found a female cardinal.

In March, my mom and I began the Great Road Trip West. I was headed to Reno, NV, for a six month AmeriCorps position. I was excited to go somewhere new, but driving in winter was daunting. Smooth sailing until Colorado, but as you get closer to areas with mountains weather can get fickle.
Elk Mountain Pass was especially a challenge, but we planned a couple of days especially for that purpose. Hearing conflicting opinions about the high winds and blowing snow was stressful, but it gave us more time to explore small towns like Laramie, WY.
When we made it across the pass, we decided to drive by White Mountain HMA. The conditions in White Mountain were very different from South Steens. Coming into late winter, the horses were lean and digging through crusty snow. You could tell it was a hard winter, but the horses were adapted for it.

White Mountain

It was fun to see some color diversity in White Mountain.

It was fun sharing the trip with my mom. I inherited much of my wanderlust from her. We were able to see the landscape change each day, and visit places we might not have thought to see without the trip.
Living in NV gave me ample opportunities to explore mountain and desert ecosystems. Nevada has the highest percentage of public land in the USA, so I was eager to try to see mustangs, but snow made the range difficult to access. While I waited for dryer conditions, I explored the trails of Galena Creek Regional Park.

ground squirrel

Don’t let these cuties fool you. They’ll steal an entire lunchbox if you let them.

When I did decide to visit the Pine Nut Mountains HMA for the first time, the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocacy group was very helpful in giving me advice and directions. Even so, I was not prepared to see the desert surrounded on all sides by mountains. Compared to other HMAs, the horses were fairly easy to find, and full of character. Once they realized I wasn’t a threat, they tended to snuggle. Their personalities made up for their small stature.

Pine Nuts

A view of Mystique, Samson’s, and Shorty’s bands.

During Memorial Day weekend my family visited. Spending ample time in Midtown we enjoyed exploring Reno, and Lake Tahoe. I was even able to show my parents a couple of the bands in the Pine Nuts.

Lake Tahoe

One of the many mountain views.

Mystique's band

JT tries to flirt with Sydney while Treasure looks on.

When I wasn’t visiting the Pine Nuts, I was trying to find the Virginia Range horses. Since they are not managed by the BLM, they intrigued me. Spread out between Carson City, Virginia, Reno, and other towns, I had to get used to the idea that there were mustangs near residential streets.

Reno mustang

I’m assuming this guy was a bachelor because he was apart form other bands.

I was also surprised to see so much wildlife in the pockets of water and grasses. A plethora of birds, and an occasional beaver mingled with the horses. These horses were more used to people, and as snuggly as the horses in the Pine Nuts. Endearing, but it was hard to consider them wild.


An example of local wildlife.

In August we took a family trip to Iceland. I have been fortunate to travel growing up, but nothing compares to Iceland. Reykjavik has a charming balance of history, folklore, and modern. With so much geothermal activity, we were able to see the unique ecosystems, climate, and wildlife. I can see why it is attractive for people to become expats there.


A rapidly melting glacier was a poignant reminder of our impact on the environment.

At the end of summer, it was time to go home. I was driving on my own this time, so planned routes that were familiar to me. Including a drive through White Mountain. Despite a better maintained main road, the horses were harder to find. I was expecting that. The horses have seasonal patterns, and are harder to find going into autumn. Still, I was happy to have made the detour and with the horses I had seen.

Aurora and filly

Some of the horses in White Mountain are Curlies.

Once in MN I began getting ready to start as a naturalist fellow at Dodge Nature Center. So far, I have enjoyed teaching about the reptiles, amphibians, raptors, and farm animals we have on site. The landscape lacks mountains and mustangs, but there are still plenty of wildlife sightings.


This opportunistic squirrel was trying to steal some birdseed.

Deer and turkey meander through the yard daily. Some nights coyote sing. Birds and squirrels congregate around feeders. The fellowship position has helped me learn about the different ecosystems in MN, and the history of different nature centers.


A conference through the MN Naturalist Association taught me a lot about programs in MN.

I’m not exactly sure what 2018 will bring, and that can be a little overwhelming. I have goals, but whatever happens, I want adventure.
To quote Dr. Sues: “Oh the places I’ll go!”

The Consequences of Lawsuits*

Often there’s so much going on with mustangs that it is hard to stay proactive. Often, removals are posted before advocates have had a chance to participate in the NEPA process, once the decision has been made it’s almost impossible to change it. Since people have the idea that helicoptors are an illegal way to round up horses at that point advocates cry for lawsuits.


As of now there’s only 5 horses that would have minimal impact on genetics if removed from the Pryors. Quanah would be one of those horses.

While the reaction is well-meaning, it unfortunately is very limited in it’s approach to helping the horses. In order to be successful in a lawsuit advocates need to be able to prove that the BLM is acting illegally. Managing horses is well within the realm of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, so it is a lot better to prevent helicopters from being used than to cry foul after the fact.

Quintana and Prind

Color or no color there is a bias towards Cloud’s line. Removing Pride instead of Quintana would help preserve Mescalero’s line.

The NEPA process is also designed to be the public’s opportunity to influence management. Since there’s an opportunity after the scoping notice has been posted, and the first draft of the EA there’d be plenty of time to comment if there weren’t so many different herds and field offices. But there’s two sides to any perspective and when the NEPA process requires so much paperwork, I’m sure BLM Field Offices try to avoid using it. Thus giving advocates a reasonable amount of EAs to comment on.


Prospera only has one full sibling on the range, so I hope she stays.

Usually lawsuits are a waste of time and money, but occasionally a group gets lucky. Using Friends of Animals as an example, getting lucky doesn’t always have positive long-term benefits. They’re a group, that I’m sure was well meaning, sued a couple BLM Field Offices because the Field Offices had not assessed AML in those herds when they were supposed to. While the litigation went on management in those herds stopped.
When FOA won the lawsuits it forced the field offices to assess AML.


Quaid has look alike full siblings on the range and would have minimal genetic impact if removed.

Luckily for the Pryors AML stayed the same, but not long after the assessment the Billings FO released a scoping notice about removing horses in the Pryors. In the Pine Nuts they finally decided to start their PZP program again, but they also want to reduce the herd to 21 horses. Advocates for both herds are hopeful they can work with the respective Field Offices, but to me it seems like the BLM is making up for lost time.

Orielle and Quin

I don’t particularly want either Orielle or Quin removed, but at least Quin has full siblings on the range.

I worry if advocates aren’t willing to be more proactive and compromise with the BLM then we’re going to miss our opportunity to have lasting positive impacts. By latching on to any flaw in management after the fact only reinforces the idea that advocates are emotional and don’t understand how management decisions are made.


Since Electra has been a prolific mare it is likely that at least one of her daughters will get removed.

To be more proactive it is imperative that advocates show a willingness to work well with local BLM Field Offices. You could almost argue that waiting until an EA is released is too reactive. If advocates are local, they can request meetings with that BLM field office. They can try to influence management decisions before they go in an EA, and might have a better idea of where the BLM will go with management.
I’d like to think that the vast majority of people that know that participating in the NEPA process is one of the best ways to influence management are well researched about each HMA, but I also worry that the people that do not understand management will create major set backs for the rest of us. With so much fake news, it is so vital we do quality research with critical thinking to stand up for the causes we care for.
*I’m intentionally just providing pictures from the Pryors since I know the range there best. If people want more information about he Pine Nuts they can visit the facebook page Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates.


Recently, The Mustang Center gave the bittersweet report that due to getting separated from Washakie Renegade got removed and adopted. Most everyone has been positive, but since there’s a few people who think he should have remained in the wild I thought I’d clarify things.


Washakie always got so large every time she was in foal.

Although it’s best to let animals live and die on the range, part of managing horses in humane management. Renegade was only 3 months old. I’m sure there’s some domestic breeders that want to wean their foals as fast as possible, but in the wild it’s not uncommon for a foal to nurse for a year or more. Usually you know foals have passed away when they disappear. You hope it was predation, because at least then it probably was fairly instantaneous.
The rare times I hear of a foal being separated from its family Renegade is the only foal to survive. If left in the wild, the process is a drawn out decline. Even if a foal is removed, there’s no guarantee it will adapt to getting nourishment from formula. Even with how tenacious the Pryor horses are, I think I can say with confidence that there is no way Renegade would have survived the wild without mama’s milk. Removing him gave him a second chance, and he ended up in the best of homes.


I can’t imagine Baja without Washakie, but I really hope he’s still in a remote part of the Pryors ready to teach the bachelors a thing or two.

There’s also the hope by some that Renegade will be allowed to go back to the wild once he is stronger. Unfortunately that is not the case. A strong trait of mustangs is being adaptable, and that relates to captivity as well. Young horses especially are eager to find companionship in humans.
In order to thrive Renegade needs companionship, but I would assume he is not strong enough to meet the rest of the horses yet. He will need to get his companionship from humans, which will make his life harder in the wild if he were to be released. If you are giving him less chance than the rest of his cohort, then how is that better than giving him a better life with the Cerroni’s?

Baja's band

I loved seeing Baja’s band for the first time in 2011. It’s changed over the years, but he’s always had Washakie.

I see where people are coming from, but I think this is a situation that requires tact. I think it’s important to ask oneself when making comments: am I being helpful? Once a management decision is made it is very hard to change it, so even with the best intentions now might not be the appropriate time to question that decision.
As bummed, as I am that Washakie is gone, I am happy that Renegade is getting a second chance. I can celebrate that he is in the best home with the Cerroni’s. No matter how much we want Renegade on the range, we have to accept that it’s not possible. The best thing for him now is to be supportive of his new home.

Wild Horse Mismanagement: Bias

As much as I would have liked to spend more time around horses growing up, equine facilities have a reputation for being cliquey. Unfortunately, even in the somewhat virtual wild horse world, you still get this bias. Here’s an obvious example from the Pryors: Cloud. People who are aware of the PBS Nature films love Cloud.


In case anyone forgot what Cloud looked like.

I get it, if I hadn’t heard of Cloud I would not have made my first trip to the Pryors, nor would I have a desire to pursue conservation photography. It seems harmless enough, but when it comes time to make management decisions it can seem the bias is continued to favor Cloud’s line.
I noticed more subtle bias with Grijala. With the help of Garay, Grijala wore out Lakota, a stallion just as beloved as Cloud. It was so intense; Lakota broke his leg and had to be put down. For a while, people blamed Grijala for Lakota’s death, but he didn’t really have long-term benefits from it. When Grijala was younger, he had a band of young mares, but they got removed. Garay was the stallion that ended up with Lakota’s former lead mare.


I don’t have great photos of Garay, but he’s a handsome grullo. You can see where the tip of his ear was bitten off during a fight with Lakota.

Quelle Colour and her daughter Kohl took time to settle with Garay, but you don’t hear him referred to as mean. Meanwhile Grijala took some time to be a bachelor. Grjala loved to play, and despite being larger than most of the stallions, he was very gentle.
I’m not sure how he did it, but Grijala eventually won the mare Graciana. Later they both took Oceana under their wing. The young mare Petra has been going back and forth between her mama and Grijila. Grijala still makes time to play, and is gentle with his mares. People have really warmed up to him, and sometimes it seems like they’ve conveniently forgotten that they were biased against him.


Grijala’s so gentle when he plays it almost looks like he’s moving in slow motion.


Grijala loves to play, but is very attentive of his band.

Another example in the Pryors is Mescalero. He’s had fertility issues, and for a while people acted like he was the only one responsibility for the well-being of the foal. They acted like Mescalero is the only horse in the band to make decisions, but he’s had some strong mares in his band.


I’ve always thought Mescalero has the best of both worlds between Sitka and Shaman regarding color.

Now that Pride and Quinatana are being successfully raised in the band, Mescalero still gets mixed reviews. Everybody likes the idea of Cloud’s last son growing up, but it might be at the expense of Quintana. Feldspar x Cloud’s line is already well represented, so Mescalaro should have a chance to also be represented.
Most recently, there’s a trend toward being dissatisfied with Doc. There seems to be the idea that he started out as a chill stallion, that has become aggressive, but I don’t think that’s how it works. My very first trip to the mountain top London was a foal.
Doc’s band kept mostly to the perimeter, but that didn’t stop Doc from challenging other stallions. I remember waking up to horse almost directly in front of the camp, and watching Doc raise to challenge the stallion Duke.
Duke isn’t what I’d call a fighter, but he’s dominant, and powerful when he needs to be. If I were trying to gain a mare from him, calling out probably wouldn’t be my method, but Doc let Duke know he was coming. The conformation was brief, but Doc’s actions don’t indicate a timid stallion to me.
The next time I saw Doc, he had two mares. They were a mother/daughter pair and very independent. They spent more time apart from bands, but I don’t think that means Doc was lacking dominance. Like people, horses have different aspects to their character. If your mares are independent it makes it easier for another stallion to woo them. By keeping them further away if they wander it’s less likely it’s to another stallion.
Even with those two mares, Doc was trying to add to his band. This was about the time he started becoming more interested in Cloud, and Jackoon’s bands. There’s history in multiple blogs that I won’t completely go over here, but this is when he started gaining a reputation for being aggressive. He went back and forth between having Cloud’s mares and Jackon’s mares before winning Jackosn’s entire band.


Doc takes his job as band stallion seriously.

Usually having a larger band means more status. The mares were also very bonded to Jackson, so transitions take time. Doc was often seen snaking the mares to keep them together, but that doesn’t say a lot about aggression. It just means he’s trying to keep the band together.
Recently, Doc’s band has become a little smaller. More of his mares are of viable breeding age; so all the work to become a dominant band stallion has paid off. When people get the opportunity, though, it seems people are determined to doubt his validity as a sire.
I get it, each horse has a different character, so it’s easy to anthropomorphize. It’s ok to have favorites. It’s not ok to let that opinion bias your perception of that horse. It’s already hard enough to guess which horse is the sire without people letting their emotions get in the way of rational thought. If there’s discord about the sire because someone doesn’t like the stallion you risk losing genetics to a removal.
Will everyone agree about the sire? Probably not, but if there is disagreement it should be for objective reasons. Based on the NEPA process, the BLM is supposed to make decisions based on sound science. Usually the best way to make recommendations about which horses to stay are from individuals that are able to make calm, and clear observations. There’s a point where advocates need to accept that nature will accept the genes most likely to survive, despite our emotional attraction to the horses. We need to reflect that in management decisions. If we aren’t objective we risk loosing lines.

Wild Horse Mismanagement: 100% Adoption Rate (misconceptions)*

Every time there’s a proposed removal in the Pryors it makes me nervous. I worry not just about the impact on the longevity of the herd, but also because I think people use the idea that saying the horses in the Pryors have a 100% adoption rate somehow makes the management better.
This is limiting for a couple of reasons. 1. I worry that there will be a time that not all the Pryor horses find homes. 2. It implies that each horse goes to a forever home. For a while it seemed like a core group of people were able to adopt horses after each removal. They are well-known in the Pryors, so they can be relied on to provide a good home, but with removals happening more often, it’s only a matter of time before even the most dedicated people need to stop adopting.

Reeves mustangs

The Reeves family has adopted four mustangs and given them a great home.

Horses in the wild can live into their 20s, so it’s realistic to think horses in captivity would exceed that lifespan. At the oldest, the horses removed in the Pryors will be four. That means that horse is spending the majority of its life with a new owner. If they are a truly good owner, they will not exceed their resources for the sake of adopting a new horse. There’s not enough demand for domestic animals, let alone wild animals.
Saying that the horses have a 100% adoption rate is also misleading. Just because no Pryor horses get adopted initially doesn’t mean it’s a good home. There have been numerous cases of advocacy groups quietly stepping in to help rehome horses that got into bad situations. I say quietly, because sometimes it seems like only the success stories are talked about. I get it, people want the Pryor horses to continue to be adoptable, but I think honesty is the best policy.


A photo of Bandit in holding.

Meanwhile, people’s desire to find the perfect home for the Pryor horses is at the expense to the other horses in holding. During the last removal in the Pryors, those horses were still being promoted even though all of the horses had bids. The idea was that people care more for things when they pay more money, but not every one is able to bid that high. If they chose not to continue on a Pryor horse does that really mean they don’t care?
By promoting the Pryor horses more than others it is perpetuating the stereotype that some herds are better than others. While the Spanish herds are a direct link to the Conquistadors, if horses lack proper conformation they won’t do as well in the wild. It’s true different HMAs have different characteristics, it just means that different equine breeds influenced the herd over time. You use different breeds for different disciplines, so a horse from a different HMA could be very adaptable to certain training.
I understand why there is care to help Pryor horses find good homes, but I wish there was the same care to get each HMA at a 100% initial adoption rate. If we start acting like one herd is more important than another herd, than we’re going to be left with very few horses. Wolves are divided into sub-species, and many want to protect each sub-species, so why not treat mustangs the same?


Bandit at holding.

I challenge everyone to go to the BLM website. (Gasp!) If you can figure out how to navigate it, go to the wild horse and burro page where it lists the states with HMAs. Pick a state that you wouldn’t expect to have horses. Research the individual HMAs. See if the herd has an advocacy group associated with it. If it doesn’t see if there are any photographers associated with it.

Bandit at home

Bandit’s first day at home.

I think part of being a strong advocate is learning as much as possible. It’s also important to raise awareness. If a herd is not well-known, share the information you have. If we want to have mustangs for future generations, we have to protect what we already have.
*All photos used with permission from Rachel Reeves

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.


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.


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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