Emergency wild horse gather in Jackson Mountains

Jun 8, 2012

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on June 8 began an emergency horse gather in the Winnimucca, NV, herd management area (HMA) based on concern for the health of the over 900 wild horses that are living on limited resources because of the drought and overpopulation.

BLM Winnemucca District Black Rock Field Office issued a Decision Record for an environmental assessment (EA) for the Jackson Mountains wild horse gather. The plan includes gathering 630 wild horses in drought-stricken Humboldt and Pershing counties.

The Jackson Mountains area is approximately 283,000 acres in size. This is considered the primary gather area, although the total gather area is approximately 775,000 acres to encompass wild horses residing in non-horse management areas in their search for water, forage and space.

“The BLM is closely monitoring the condition of the wild horses in the southern end of the Jackson Mountain HMA,” said District Manager Gene Seidlitz prior to the gather. “It is necessary for the health of the horses to get the excess animals off the range now before their condition worsens.”

“The BLM started hauling water to troughs last month, Seidlitz added. “There is minimal to no green up occurring on this year’s forge. The wild horses in the southern end of the HMA are foraging on last year’s cheatgrass and shrubs and their condition is declining.”

The estimated population is 930 wild horses, which includes the 2012 foal crop. The Appropriate Management Level (AML) for the Jackson Mountains HMA is 130 to 217 wild horses. This gather will not achieve the desired low AML of 130 wild horses on the range, and there will be two to three follow-up gathers over the next 10 years.

The Decision Record was issued in full force and effect, which means that although the gather was originally slated to start July 1, it was changed to start on June 8 due to an emergency situation in the HMA. The gather was considered an emergency because of persistent drought conditions in the HMA, which put a large population of wild horses at risk, and the declining animal condition associated with minimal vegetation growth and availability of water. The body condition score of wild horses in the HMA overall is between a 2 (very thin) and 4 (moderately thin).

It is BLM policy to not conduct wild horse gathers during the foaling season, which is typically from March through June. The emergency gather started one month before the end of the foaling season.

“The BLM is taking precautions during the gather to reduce heat stress and distances we move the animals,” said Seidlitz, prior to the gather. “We are working closely with the contractor to ensure we are conducting the gather in the most humane manner possible. We care about these animals and we take seriously our responsibility to manage healthy herds of wild horses on the public lands.”

Within the HMA are several grazing allotments with permitted livestock. Due to the drought conditions, voluntary changes in livestock management have occurred and the permittees have taken voluntary measures to delay turnout, reduce numbers, and adjust livestock operations. The permitted livestock have been removed from the southern use area of the HMA and Jackson Mountain Allotment (Trail Springs/DeLong Windmill).

Public lands within the HMA were open to the public during the gather operations, subject to necessary safety restrictions. The public is encouraged to check the gather hotline (775) 623-1541 for information about meeting times.

The gather was conducted in close coordination with the Nevada Department of Agriculture’s (NDOA) Brands Division. The NDOA brand inspectors verified that all gathered animals were wild horses and burros as defined by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

In 1971, the U.S. Congress passed The Wild Free- Roaming Horses and Burros Act in an effort to protect, manage, and control wild horses and burros on public lands. This legislation declared these wild animal populations to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” It vested BLM and the USDA Forest Service with responsibility for their management and directed these agencies to manage wild horses and burros for a “thriving natural ecological balance.”

But management is not a simple task, and loaded with controversy. Through its National Wild Horse and Burro Program, BLM manages nearly 37,000 wild horses and burros roaming in 180 HMAs comprising almost 32 million acres in 10 western states. Management issues range from the effects of rapid population growth on habitat to ensuring healthy populations for the future. Largely unchecked by natural predators, wild horse populations often grow at rates of 18–25 percent per year. This unregulated growth can overtax vegetation and affect herd health as well as native wildlife populations.

Historically, the primary means of dealing with excess animals has been periodic “gathers.” Most herds are gathered (rounded up) every three-five years. Excess animals that are 10 years of age or younger are offered for public adoption; older animals are offered for sale to good homes. Excess animals that are not adopted or sold are maintained in long-term (pasture) holding facilities for the remainder of their natural lives.

In the late 1990s, BLM entered into a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) to design and implement a research program that would investigate alternative approaches for dealing with rapid population growth as well as other management challenges faced by BLM. A series of expert panels was convened to discuss the subjects of health and handling, fertility control, population estimation, genetics, and habitat assessment. Based on reports produced by these expert panels and information from a variety of other sources, BLM, FORT, and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service staff prepared a Strategic Research Plan for wild horse and burro management. The plan initially focused on fertility control and population estimation, which FORT undertook as research projects. In addition, the continued importance of an existing FORT project, the Wild Horse Identification and Management System, was immediately recognized.

All three FORT projects directly or indirectly address BLM challenges in the areas of herd size, herd health, and population management.

The Jackson Mountains gather and impacts are described and analyzed in the EA, which is available online at the Winnemucca District website: www.blm. gov/nv/st/en/fo/wfo.html. BLM will also provide updates and information on the website on a regular basis. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor