The Pryor Fence

If anyone’s followed the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses is the fence separating BLM from USFS land is a topic that is talked about a lot, but not everyone understands all of details of it. A lot of people seem against it, but in my opinion, there are both pros and cons to having the fence where it is.

First I thought I’d give a cliff-notes version of the history of the fence.  In 2009 there was a huge roundup in the Pryor Mountains. During that time,  some of the horses were using Forest Service lands, and entire bands were removed from that area. After the removal, plans for a fence on the border between BLM & USFS lands were made and once the fence was completed, it prevented the horses from utilizing the Forest Service lands.

One of the horses in the bands that were removed. They are now known as the Freedom Family and are owned by The Cloud Foundation so they can live in as wild a setting as possible.

One of the horses in the bands that were removed. They are now known as the Freedom Family and are owned by The Cloud Foundation so they can live in as wild a setting as possible. (July 2013)

Which leads to the first potential pro of the fence. If there had been an effective fence prior to the 2009 gather would the Forest Service bands have been removed? I want to say yes, but the removal ended up being a complicated mess that should really be explained in another post. However, the fence currently does a good job of preventing the horses from going into Forest Service lands.

Encore and Feldspar groom by the fence.

Encore and Feldspar groom by the fence. (July 2013)

Another pro to the fence is it keeps cattle from accessing the range. For some reason cattle seems to be a confusing point for people, so I want to make it clear that while cattle are not permitted within the horse range they are allowed in certain areas of the Forest service lands. The cattle don’t always stay where they are supposed to, and without the fence there could be the potential for the cattle to get into the horse range.

Some cows look into the horse range. (July 2013)

Some cows look into the horse range. (July 2013)

The biggest downside of the fence is it takes away land the horses had been using for generations. There’s some debate about whether or not the horses were using the area at the time that the Pryors became a designated horse range, but to me the argument seems weak. The horses were living in the Pryors long before the addition of boundaries and I have a hard time believing that after the range was established they abruptly began using the Forest Service land. The horses rely on lead mares to dictate where to go and she learned the routes from the lead mares in her family.

Regardless of where the horses were historically, the BLM is still mandated to manage for a healthy range, and in the long run a healthy range means healthy horses. There always seems to be the concern that the horses’ numbers will get too high, which will damage the range, which is a no win situation for the range or the horses. A quick solution to this would be to remove horses, but in the long run removing horses also removes the genetics of that particular horse ergo decreasing genetic variability.  It would be healthier for the horses and the range if the horses had more room to spread out.

I've heard that wildflowers are a indication of poor range health, but a picture like this can be misleading. Some areas can have a lot of wildflowers and others may not have any at all.

I’ve heard that wildflowers are an indication of poor range health, but a picture like this can be misleading. Some areas can have a lot of wildflowers and others may not have any at all. (July 2013)

Like I said, this is the cliff-notes version, but I tried to outline the history of the fence and the things I have thought about when developing my opinion about the fence. An idealist would wish for the fence to be torn down and not replaced, but the Forest Service made it clear in 2009 that they do not want horses on their land. The horses could be removed from the Forest Service land and cattle might have an easier time entering the horse range. However, I do worry that without more room the horses will not be allowed to have a large enough population to maintain genetic viability. The way I look at it is while the horses need more room; the fence should not be removed. So, yes, the horses should be allowed to utilize Forest Service lands, but only if safeguards are put in place to prevent entire bands from being removed.

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