AML in the Pryors: Part 2!

In August I wrote a post about litigation in the Pryors. Here’s another link about the outcome. I first saw it posted to Return to Freedom, and it’s clear there’s some confusion about what’s going on. A lot of the confusion came from generalizations about how wild horse management happens, so I thought if I address some of those generalizations it might help people understand what’s going on in the Pryors.

A stat that people often compare is the number of horses in holding vs the number of horses in the wild. Although it’s true there’s more horses in holding than the wild, listing it as thousands of horses:thousands of acres makes it seem like the horses have free reign* to go where they’d like.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. There’s only~ 10 western** United States with wild horses. Each herd is separated by geological and man-made barriers. Because of these barriers, each herd has different adaptations, and is genetically different. It’s a bit like having different sub-species of mustangs vs. one big herd. To use the Pryors as an example, fences separate BLM land from adjacent NPS, and USFS land. The horses are known to have a Spanish influence on their genetics.

The other side of that generalization is that the same people manage all the herds. In reality, there are several BLM Field Offices that manage one or two herds, depending on the number of herds in an area, and the number of horses within those herds. Using MT, and WY as examples: although the Pryors are in both MT, and WY the majority of the herd is in MT. It is counted as the only herd in MT, and managed by the Billings BLM. McCullough Peaks is managed by the Cody BLM, and HMAs near Rock Springs are managed by the Rock Springs BLM.

Another generalization is that all ranchers are against the horses. It can seem that way, especially in herds near Rock Springs, but that’s not always the case. There’s no one right way to advocate for horses, and there’s some ranchers that have adopted mustangs. Sometimes they choose to advocate for the herds that those horses come from, and become more involved in horse advocacy in general. There’s even herds, such as the Pryors, that don’t have cattle. Since different field office manage different herds, they also manage for different aspects of multiple use.  The only use in the Pryors is for wildlife, so it’s important to have herd specific information before forming an opinion about a herd.

Athletically, pictures of horses frolicking in sub-alpine meadows are popular. In reality, the Pryors are the only herd that I know of that has that type of habitat. Most are desert rangeland, and only a small portion of the Pryors is subalpine meadow.

To put it in perspective, the Pryors are about 38,000 acres, with about 166 horses. For the purposes of this post I’m going divide the range into 2 regions: summer, and winter range. For summer range, the majority of horses spend time on the topmost elevations. A few horses spend their summers in the Dryhead Desert, but it’s pretty universally accepted that there’s not enough summer grazing on the mountain top.

In the winter, most of the horses spend time in mid-elevations during winter. Since both Sykes, and Burnt Timber Ridges are included, so I’m calling it the biggest part of the range.~~ Ridges, and valleys are plentiful, so there’s plenty of room for the horses to spread out, but there’s also a lot of rock and sage. The horses do remarkably well considering the conditions, because not all of the range is suitable grazing.

I’m sure Friends of Animals was expecting AML to magically increase by filing litigation. I truly believe AML isn’t going to increase until more summer grazing is given to the horses. More land is being added to the Dryhead***, but I don’t anticipate the USFS letting the fence at the top of the mountain get removed, or extended anytime soon.

I think it’s important for advocates to keep the BLM accountable, but all this did was delay management. There’s still going to be PZP in the Pryors. There’s still going to be bait trapping. Until the population is stable in the eyes of the BLM, that’s something advocates have to accept.

Rather than try to end management, advocates can try to modify it. The Billings BLM is open to ideas, even if it’s not in response to an EA. Maybe before the next removal, advocates can give input on which horses get removed. If people are wary of too much PZP use, maybe people can give feedback about which mares get darted, or volunteer to help dart mares. If people are worried that there might be a point where the Pryors don’t have 100% adoption rate, help the horses get adopted.

Like I said, there’s no wrong way to be an advocate, and every bit helps. It’s important, though, that advocates have the best information available. Making a decision based on only seeing horses in the Dryhead, is not utilizing all information available. I think most people who follow this blog are aware of what’s going on, so I’m probably preaching to the choir, but just in case here’s a bit more context.


Quanah, and Orielle are two young horses in Flint’s band. (June, 2016)

*Pun not intended.

~Bold added for emphasis.

**There’s some wild horses in eastern States too, but they’re not managed by the BLM.

~~Since the Dryhead horses go between the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, and Sykes I’m not sure how to look up exact acreage between each location.

***Currently 600 acres of about 2,000 acres has been opened to the horses. Eventually all of the Administrative Pastures will be available, but I don’t anticipate it increasing AML.


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