LOVELL, Wyoming (STPNS) -- A document released last week by the Bureau of Land Management that recommends reducing the Pryor herd by about 35 percent has many herd enthusiasts sitting uncomfortably in their saddles.

The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Evaluation was released last Monday and establishes a number of long-term and short-term goals for the management of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Herd. Included in the short-term goals is to maintain the Appropriate Management Level (AML) of the herd, which has been set at 95 (+/- 10 percent) since 1992, but has not been enforced. Over the past decade, the herd has not dropped below 140 and has been as high as 188 adult horses. The herd is currently at 143 adults.



The document explains that grazing horses and recent drought conditions have led to deteriorating range conditions, prompting the BLM?s intervention.

Filmmaker Ginger Kathrens is against bringing the herd to the AML that was established in 1992 and believes it will harm the long-term health of the herd. She said the AML was established without knowing what the effect would be on the herd?s genetic viability, or ability to avoid inbreeding.

?None of the managers chose to manage at that tiny little level,? Kathrens said. ?Until now.?

She said the only way to bring the herd to the AML of 95 is to take some of the older animals, a practice that will harm the social fabric of the herd.

?They?ve lived their entire life in freedom and their collective memory and their collective knowledge is very important to carry on the survival of the herd,? she said. ?They pass that knowledge on to their youngsters.?

She said a better solution would be to roundup the youngest horses for adoption or stop mountain lion hunting in the Pryors, letting nature balance the herd population.

She blames much of the deteriorating range conditions on other factors, such as lack of precipitation, high temperatures and areas damaged after BLM bait-trapping campaigns in 2006 above Krueger Pond, which attracted a large number of horses that ?trashed? the area.

?I don?t think it?s fair to blame the wild horses for that kind of damage,? Kathrens said.

Kathrens has been coming to the Pryor Mountains since 1994 and has worked on several different productions featuring the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs. Her most famous films are the Cloud series and she is in Lovell this week filming for Cloud 3.

?Its unlike anything else that we?ve got in this hemisphere, because it details the life of a wild animal since birth,? Kathrens said. ?We?re very hopeful that cloud will be able to live out his life in freedom. Because of the document presented the other day, it?s pretty frightening.?

John Nickle, president of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center in Lovell agrees that removing around 50 horses for adoption would be detrimental to the genetic viability of the herd in the future.

?If long-term goals are to keep the herd at lower levels it will have a drastic effect,? Nickle said, adding that he would like to see the BLM work to improve forage and expand the area of the range to areas the horses historically occupied.

He added that the BLM should allow for more public input before they begin managing the herd and acknowledge the herd as Spanish-type horses, something the current BLM managers have failed to do, he said.

?They?ve got their blinders on and don?t want to listen,? he said.

Wild Mustang Center Director Matt Dillon added, ?[The BLM] is not addressing what will happen if the number is too low.?

The only strategy mentioned in the document is augmentation, Dillon said, or adding outside horses to the herd.

?Each of these herds has its own genetic ID,? he said. ?You can?t just go mixing them like that.?

BLM wild horse specialist Jared Bybee said the BLM has ?no legal footing not to manage for the AML.?

Bybee said though the document released last week doesn?t make any changes to herd management, it does make the BLM look harder at their practices. He said any long-term changes in range management would require an environmental assessment.

Recommendations from the document will likely be used to create a draft environmental assessment of the herd and could lead to a roundup and adoption. Bybee said it is possible there will be a roundup as early as this summer, though there are currently no official plans for one.

Other comments sent to the BLM and published in the evaluation include ideas such as increasing the availability of water sources on the range, expanding the range into adjacent Custer National Forest land and suspending mountain lion hunting licenses. However, other comments were for managing the herd at the set AML of 95 and keeping herd numbers down until range conditions improve.

The plan also recommends other short-term goals (8 years) of adding water sources for the horses, repairing fences that allow them to wander off the range and working with the forest service and private landowners to expand the range.

Some long-term goals (25 years) listed in the document are to increase forage availability, institute fee collection for recreation on the Pryors and institute road closures during the main part of foaling season.

The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Evaluation can be found online at http://www.blm.gov/mt/st/en/fo/billings_field_office/wild_horses.html.