Transparency in the Pryor Mountains

Recently the Billings BLM (BLM) shared their decision to increase PZP in the Pryors. I have mixed feelings about their decision. Part of me feels obligated to jump on board since it’s a step in the right direction for adaptive management in the Pryors. Anything to avoid removals, right? Especially when what I’m implying from the “minimal removals” wording is that if we don’t increase PZP now, they will be forced to bait trap latter, and if they don’t bait trap, they’ll be forced to use helicopters.

However, I am concerned that the thresholds aren’t as adaptive as the BLM thinks they are. You could argue that by using the NEPA process the BLM is being as transparent and clear as they possibly can, but the more I think about it, the more I wish they hadn’t used thresholds. It seems more adaptive than the previous plan, but I wish they had listed each mares’ name and exactly when she would be receiving PZP. While it’s true the way PZP is set up now, it would be possible for people to create their own list, but I think the true way to show each mare its own separate case for PZP, not look at the herd in its entirety.

To help illustrate this, I’m going to use the planning process to the last bait trap gather as an example. This was an example of where there was an implication that if there wasn’t a bait trap gather, there would be a helicopter removal, but I really appreciated the way the list of the horses was set up. The horses were set up in three tiers, and I think a similar thing could be achieved with the list of mares. The only improvement I would like to see if there needs to be a removal list in the future, is rather than a list where the horses might not get removed, I would the list to be only of the horses being removed.

I think in order to have truly adaptive management that is how PZP needs to work. In order to promote even bloodlines, then mares should be put on a tired list to prioritize which mares should be given PZP. Mares that are prolific such as Firestorm, Halcyon, Greta, and Waif could stand to have a break from having foals, but mares such as Gaelic Princess, Shadow, and The Black have not had such good luck.

Firestorm has been prolific, but she has also had several of her foals removed.

Firestorm has been prolific, but she has also had several of her foals removed.

Gaelic Princess' only foal was removed and she has not foaled since.

Gaelic Princess’ only foal was removed and she has not foaled since.

There are also mares, like Ingrid, that had their offspring removed under the pretext of “she’s young, she’ll foal again.” Which might work in a domestic setting, but Ingrid’s first foal was in 2011, and her second one was in 2014. That’s a three year gap where most wild mares have foals each year starting when they are around 3-4. There are a lot of factors why she didn’t foal, but it also isn’t due to natural selection that her fist foal is no longer on the Pryors.

Ingrid's a cute mare who dotes on foals. It was a shame to see her foal Lynx removed, but at least she now has another foal of her own.

Ingrid’s a cute mare who dotes on foals. It was a shame to see her foal Lynx removed, but at least she now has another foal of her own.

This is a very simplified idea of what could be looked at when putting mares on a tiered system. I think in order to be fully comprehensive, contingency plans need to be put in place. I think we can all agree that we can keep mares on PZP until they are three to prevent young mares from foaling, but beyond that what is the magic number of foals that a mare should have before being placed back on PZP? How old do the foals need to be for her to be put back on PZP? If one of those foals dies or is removed will she be allowed to be taken off PZP? What happens if there’s an unexpected dip in the population? As you might be picking up, I would like to see a not just one plan that generalizes for all mares, but several plans that are custom fit to each mare, that are flexible in the event of an unexpected event or tragedy.

It may seem odd to post this now after the decision has been made. Those of you familiar with the NEPA process will know that my comments now will not impact this decision. However, this will not be the last EA ever written, and I think people need to anticipate different phases in planning. The direction I believe the BLM is moving toward is no removals, but unless this is a short term plan until more land until more land can be added to the range I am not convinced that this is the right way to plan for PZP. If we start now, we can come up with creative ways to manage the horses.

Don’t get me wrong, when you think about how the last time horses were removed via helicopter was 2009 the BLM has made tremendous steps in managing the Pryor horses adaptively. The Billings BLM have already been an example for other HMAs, and there room to continue that momentum. With creative brainstorming, I believe the adaptive ways the Billings BLM have been managing the Pryor horses can be modified to other HMAs. With that type of attitude, I am confident that we could start moving toward putting managing horses with helicopters in the past, not just using helicopters because it’s always been done that way. It won’t happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start planning for the future.

It's always tough to see horses we've seen grow get removed, but I think with careful planning, removals can be prevented.

It’s always tough to see horses we’ve seen grow get removed, but I think with careful planning, removals can be prevented.


  1. Joy Vancos Said:

    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts. There is definitely still room for improvement with the PZP plan. To me the thresholds will also take a lot of boots on the ground to manage and a lot of paperwork. And I wish they would not have added that a mare would stay on PZP “regardless if the one offspring was removed or died”.

    On the other hand, there are currently 173 horses on the range, including last year’s foals. And at least 5 mares pregnant so far, with no definite signs yet of any missing horses. With the mild winter the Pryors saw, I believe it may be pretty dry this year — forage may be difficult to come for that number of horses by later in the summer. Something has to be done or there will be a large removal for sure.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Joy. I agree, there needs to be some increase to PZP, but I’m not convinced the way the thresholds are set up now is the way to go. I think a truly adaptive plan would try to incorporate predicted weather events. The way it’s been lately, it seems like a winter with more snow is usually preceded by one that has colder temps, but not as much snow. For example, if a year is predicted to have more moister in the summer, then it might be an opportunity to give the mares like Gaelic Princess, a chance to have a foal, but if it’s predicted that there won’t be as much forage that summer then it would be an opportunity to dart more mares. It would take more planning and time writing the EA, but I think it would save time in the field if there’s different scenarios to choose from depending on how people might think the following winter might be. On the other hand, if the new plan is a short term plan to get the horses to AML, then maybe I can tolerate it. There’s definitely different ways to look at it for sure.

  2. Joy Vancos Said:

    I really don’t like the threshold idea, either. I’d like to know if they are going to wait after darting 9 yr-olds before going to 8yr-olds or what. It’s going to take a lot of work to figure out where all the mares belong and I’m afraid they may end up saying the heck with it and just dart them all. Just more frustration.

    • Maybe I’m misunderstanding the thresholds, but I think they would need to have another EA in order to do that, and I doubt anyone would respond positively to that idea. I guess it depends on how much people want to compromise when balancing PZP and removals.

  3. I’m with you girl. I’m also uncomfortable that the BLM stated multiple times in their decision that they do not have an ending date when they will evaluate this new plan and make changes. I do not consider “we’ve changed the plan 8 times since 2001 and don’t want to keep doing that” to be good justification for this when the new plan is so extreme.

    • Thanks! I picked up on the lack of time frame too. If I thought it were really adaptive management I’d think that they were so thorough with this EA that they can adjust as they go, but I don’t think the thresholds do that. It really does seem like they’re trying to manage the horses in the least amount of time rather than what’s best for the horses.

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