PINEDALE — The High Desert District’s wild horse draft environmental impact statement and proposed Bureau of Land Management revisions for its management are open for public comment through April 30.
The BLM’s “preferred alternative” would remove about 74 percent or 1,529 of the wild horses from four herd management areas or HMAs, where populations are well above its current appropriate management levels or AMLs.
HMA acreage where BLM actively manages wild horses would be reduced by about 87 percent to “herd areas.” The BLM defines herd areas as public lands where horses were found in 1971 when the Wild Horse & Burro Act was passed but are not actively managed “for a variety of reasons, including conflicts with private land, land transferred from BLM’s jurisdiction and lands where there were substantial conflicts with other resources values.”
Portions of HMAs outside the Checkerboard area, combined with the Little Colorado HMA, would continue under BLM management but with an AML of 259 to 536 wild horses.
“Under this alternative, there would no longer be any wild horses in the area of the Wild Horse Scenic Loop, a popular viewing place for wild horses,” it states. “The lower number of wild horses in the planning area is expected to have positive impacts to wildlife, soils, vegetation, livestock and water resources.”
The BLM’s wild-horse resource management plan for “the Checkerboard” – alternating 640-acre parcels of private and public lands in southwestern Wyoming – was the subject of a lengthy lawsuit led in 2011 by the Rock Springs Grazing Association.
The judge ruled in a 2013 “Consent Decree” that BLM’s Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices needed to amend their wild horse RMPs to remove stray horses from the grazing association’s private property.
The draft documents affect wild horses in the Great Divide Basin, White Mountain, Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town HMAs. The Little Colorado HMA is not in this planning area.
The High Desert District announced two public meetings for questions and comments. The rest took place in Rock Springs on Friday, March 5, and the second is Wednesday, March 11, from 3-6 p.m. at the Jeffrey Memorial Community Center in Rawlins.
Public affairs specialist Nikki Maxwell noted that many people outside of the Checkerboard are interested in these wild horses and invites them to attend the Rawlins meeting or read the draft documents and submit comments through the 90-day comment period that ends on April 30.
The High Desert District’s goals are to follow the Consent Decree to keep wild horses off private lands in a 2.8-million-acre portion of the Checkerboard area.
The BLM’s proposed RMP amendment process for the Rock Springs Field Office began in 2011 with public scoping to identify issues about its wild horse management.
In 2013, the scoping period was extended for Rock Springs and to the Rawlins Field Office, bringing more than 15,000 comments, many about wild horse reductions, overpopulation, conflicts with other users, wild horse “gathers” and keeping them off private land.
The draft EIS for the proposed RMP amendments states: “The issues to be resolved include the following:
- How will the BLM manage wild horses and meet its obligations under the 2013 Consent Decree?
- How will the BLM maintain Appropriate Management Levels in each Herd Management Area?
- How will the BLM provide for wild horse viewing opportunities for the public?”
The draft EIS analyzes four alternatives for RMP amendments, including the required “No Action” Alternative A.
Under Alternative A, the Great Divide Basin, White Mountain, Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town HMAs would be managed as they are for an AML of 1,481 to 2,065 wild horses. Water developments and fencing would be built only as needed with minimum restrictions to wild horse movements. Fertility control would be used only if necessary. The public would have access to herd areas and developed interpretive signs and sites.
The BLM’s preferred choice is Alternative D, which removes all Checkerboard lands from the HMAs. All of the Great Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek and White Mountain HMAs would become herd areas and the Adobe Town HMA could have 450 horses or less.
To accomplish this, the Rock Springs and Rawlins’ portions of Adobe Town would revert to herd areas with management for zero wild horses.
“All wild horses would be permanently removed from these areas,” the draft EIS says. “Overall, there would be 1,529 fewer wild horses (at the high AML) within the planning area under this alternative.”
Remaining Adobe Town portions outside the Checkerboard, combined with Little Colorado HMA, would continue to manage for an AML of 259 to 536 horses with 6,432 AUMs allocated for horses. Also, the Adobe Town HMA boundary would be realigned to manmade or existing boundaries. This alternative also allows Adobe Town AMLs to be adjusted without a lengthy amendment process.
The public could still see wild horses on the range of the Adobe Town HMA but again, there would be none to view along the Pilot Butte scenic loop, according to the draft EIS.
The draft EIS says that fencing is not viable in Great Divide Basin HMA because “a southern barrier would fully bisect the Sublette Mule Deer Migration Corridor and potentially interfere with big game migrations.”
The BLM determined that White Mountain HMA with its Checkerboard lands removed would not have enough forage and space to maintain a herd. The public could see wild horses there – but with fewer horses and fewer opportunities, it states.
Population controls could include gelding, spaying, sex-ratio skewing or other reproduction suppression methods – which would be studied in a site-specic activity plan.
AUMs allocated to wild horses could transfer to grazing permittees or wildlife managers “following an in-depth review of intensive monitoring data.”
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