First BLM horse ecosanctuary is up and running

Dec 21, 2012

About 200 wild horses are now living at the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) first ecosanctuary, 30 miles west of Laramie, WY.

In response to BLM’s Request for Applications, the Deerwood Ranch in Centennial Valley, WY, was selected in February 2012 as the site for BLM’s first wild horse ecosanctuary. Rich and Jana Wilson own the 4,000-acre ranch and will provide long-term, humane care for up to 300 excess wild horses gathered from western public rangelands, according to a BLM release.

BLM authorized the ecosanctuary in August after an extensive National Environmental Policy Act process. Under the proposal, BLM will sponsor the ecosanctuary at a funding level comparable to what the bureau pays for the care of excess wild horses on long-term pastures in the Midwest. The partnership agreement contains an ecotourism component which will defray costs for operating the sanctuary and save taxpayer dollars through fundraising.

Following the approval, the Wilsons spent time building new fences, modifying existing fences, and replacing all of the cattle guards with electric gates. In October, the first group of horses arrived from other BLM horse holding facilities.

“All of the horses coming to the Deerwood Ranch were originally gathered in Wyoming,” said June Wendlandt, BLM Wyoming’s Wild Horse and Burro Program lead. “We’re really happy to partner with the Wilsons on this first ecosanctuary. They have an outstanding facility to provide a good home for these horses.”

BLM and the Deerwood Ranch are still developing plans to host tours at the new ecosanctuary and will be hosting a grand opening next spring or early summer.

Colorado BLM

Meanwhile, federal officials continue to investigate the deaths of 19 wild horses at the Canon City Wild Horse Inmate Program facility.

To date, 19 horses have died and nine other horses have shown some signs of a neurologic problem causing weakness, incoordination or seizures.

Several horses that exhibited symptoms last week have shown marked improvement and appear to be recovering. With just over 2,000 horses and 400 burros at the facility, the illness remains confined to just one pen containing 110 horses.

Although the exact cause of the problem remains unknown, BLM is still working with local, state and federal veterinarians as well as pathologists at Colorado State University to diagnose the illness. Six animals have been autopsied, but so far, the general results of those examinations have been inconclusive. Samples taken from animals at the facility and from those animals autopsied are still being examined.

The pattern of the cases so far suggests it is not an infectious or contagious disease, but that possibility along with the possibility that weeds or other toxins may have been accidently ingested along with hay are being investigated. Laboratory testing is expected to continue through next week when BLM and animal health officials will revisit the situation and decide the best course of action to protect the health and wellbeing of the wild horses and burros.

BLM spokeswoman Lauren Gapinski says the preliminary lab results indicate the ingestion of whorled milkweed, a highly toxic plant, is suspected to have caused the deaths. The weed was in the hay fed to the horses.

Veterinarians have ruled out any infectious diseases as a possible cause of death. Tests for rabies, equine herpesvirus, and West Nile virus came back negative. All of the deaths have been from the same pen of horses, despite close contact between the horses in neighboring pens. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor