LOVELL — There will be no removal of wild mustangs from the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range this fall. That much is clear. But what happens next is still up in the air, according to local and national wild horse advocates, but they hope the discussion will be fruitful.
The Bureau of Land Management issued a proposed action on August 3 to remove 17 young horses from the range through a combination of bait and water trapping as part of a process to work toward achieving the appropriate management level of 90 to 120 horses called for in the current herd management area plan. The removal was to begin on September 2. At that time the herd population was 154 animals, plus a small 2018 foal crop of just six surviving animals.
After the proposed action was announced, both the Lovell-based Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center and the Cloud Foundation of Colorado Springs expressed serious concern about the removal due to the feared ramifications on the genetic health of the herd.
Later in the month, both organizations took action. The Wild Mustang Center submitted an appeal and petition for stay to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, citing a concern that the removal would “place the herd at genetic risk,” and the Cloud Foundation filed a request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the removal of the 17 horses, saying the removal would present a “real and present danger of losing the genetics that make them (the Pryor horses) unique” and could cause permanent damage to the herd.
In late August, a judge agreed. United States District Judge Susan P. Watters on August 31 granted the temporary restraining order, halting the bait and water trapping plan that was to begin two days later pending a hearing on the Cloud Foundation’s motion for a preliminary injunction. A hearing was set for September 28 at 9:30 a.m. in Billings but has since been cancelled. An earlier story in the Chronicle stated that a hearing was set for November 5 in the case, but that may be a misinterpretation of language in court and appeal documents stating that the case was stayed until November 5. No hearing has been scheduled, Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation said Tuesday.
“There’s no hearing regarding the lawsuit on November 5,” Kathrens said. “The lawsuit is over. The BLM said there is no removal this fall.”
Both the Foundation and the Wild Mustang Center would like to resume management discussions with the BLM that had preceded the BLM’s release of the proposed action. Representatives of both groups said they had held several meetings with BLM officials during the comment and review period that preceded an environmental assessment on the proposed action. Kathrens said the Cloud Foundation is planning to enter into discussion on management of the horse range “if the BLM is open to that, and I think they will be.” But she added that “no meetings have been set, no dates set, nothing.
“Judge Watters granted the temporary restraining order,” Kathrens continued. “If you read her ruling, she discussed numerous topics that we brought up. It’s not just one thing, it’s numerous things they (BLM) couldn’t rectify by September 28. They backed out and decided there would be no removal (of the 17 horses) this year. We do want to enter into communication with them so we can jointly come up with a plan for the herd that is acceptable to both parties. I would like for the Wild Mustang Center to be part of the conversation. They have brought a lot to the table based on their incredible genetic research and record keeping. One of the reasons we prevailed is because of the permanent damage the removal would have caused to the genetic lines.”
Wild Mustang Center board president Nancy Cerroni said Tuesday that the Center is in a holding pattern on the appeal of the proposed action until the IBLA rules on the appeal, but she agreed with Kathrens that there will be no removal this fall due to the Cloud Foundation lawsuit. Cerroni agreed with Kathrens that the Center would like to engage in management discussions with the BLM. She said in August that members of the Mustang Center board had thought they had reached some consensus with the BLM on certain horses that could be safely removed from the herd without damaging genetic lines.
“I would love to resume collaboration and discussions with the BLM,” Cerroni said. “I know that’s the best way to pool our resources and find the most effective management. Historically, it has (provided) some benefits to the horses. The knowledge base we have on them is critical to make sure the gene pool is kept as healthy as possible.
“Our next steps will be to look for solutions for management that will consider a small herd with a limited gene pool. As we come out of the first 50 years of the horse range, that is the key to take them into the next 50 years. We’re coming full circle to a time when the community of Lovell can almost follow the example of 50 years ago when the community really came out in favor of protecting the horses.”