Drummond group looks to create 'ecosanctuary' for BLM wild horses

2014-03-29T06:00:00Z 2014-04-22T13:00:20Z Drummond group looks to create 'ecosanctuary' for BLM wild horsesBy ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian missoulian.com

A group of Drummond landowners is considering opening pastures to wild horses from the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM is seeking to create “ecosanctuaries” on private land to provide long-term homes for thousands of horses it can’t sustain on public lands. Drummond’s Rural Sustainability Organization has applied to create such a facility for up to 325 horses.

“We’re still finding out if it’s going to happen,” said Nancy Radke of the group, which has organized community projects in the Drummond area for 14 years. “We’re working with landowners to have different pieces of land available.”

The BLM estimates it has about 33,760 wild horses roaming on its lands in 10 Western states as of 2013. It’s already placed another 33,105 wild horses in holding pastures and 14,595 horses in short-term corrals. Horses from that latter group would go to ecosanctuaries.

Montana has 145 wild horses on BLM’s Pryor Mountain land in the state, compared with 18,764 in Nevada. Wyoming has 3,459 wild horses on 16 federal range areas.

“Our horse management areas are at capacity, and this is way more cost effective than holding them in short-term facilities,” said John Hill of the BLM Missoula field office. “This is to provide for humane treatment for the horses.”


Last June, the 4,000-acre Deerwood Ranch near Laramie, Wyo., became the BLM’s first wild horse ecosanctuary. On Friday, owner Jana Wilson said the application process took about two years.

“We had raised cows and calves, but the calving season is really tough up here,” Wilson said. “We got to the point where we were just bringing in yearling (cattle) to graze for the summer and selling hay, but that left the ranch open without anything going on for winter, and that didn’t seem right. We thought the horse thing was a worthwhile venture to get into.”

The Deerwood Ranch initially took in about 240 wild geldings in October 2012, and got 65 more last fall. BLM compensates ecosanctuary providers about $1.30 a day per horse – the same amount it pays to hold them in long- or short-term facilities in the Midwest.

“The horses we have had been up for adoption in the holding facilities, but they were deemed unadoptable or unworkable,” Wilson said. “The ones we have are the ‘three-strike’ horses.”

The BLM agreement requires participants to treat the horses as wild animals. They may be herded to rotate pasture usage and given supplemental feed in the winter, but otherwise aren’t supposed to be handled, medically treated, adopted, trained or sold. They must also remain on specially fenced private land and can’t go onto public grazing lease land.

In addition to the harboring fee, the BLM also asks ecosanctuaries to allow public tours of their land. Wilson said last year she had 380 people take tours, ranging from groups of four or five to whole school classes.

“The interest was kind of amazing,” Wilson said. “We’ve already got people booked for this summer.”

Hill said the Drummond proposal should have a preliminary environmental assessment finished by June 23, followed by a 30-day public comment period. Comments on the proposal can be submitted by mail to John Thompson at the Missoula BLM office, 3255 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804; or by email to blm_mt_missoula_fo@blm.gov. A final decision could be ready by Aug. 15.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(12) Comments

  1. Bob cat
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    Bob cat - March 30, 2014 12:39 pm
    I wasn't around in those times but my grandfather tells stories of having to shoot horses that were turned loose to fend for themselves. If all those loose horses died off during the dust bowl why do we have a wild horse problem?
  2. mark h
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    mark h - March 30, 2014 10:46 am
    Do you really believe 325 horses, all genetically indistinct from their domestic counterparts and crowded onto 325 acres is going to boost eco-tourism? Perhaps for those who like flies, or dust (or mud, in the winter), or who have never seen a horse, but I wouldn't expect many people to make the long trip from LA to Montana to contribute to Granite county tax receipts for this purpose.

    If the purpose is to "conserve the environment and ecology of the lands", then how does this fit the bill? Perhaps the destruction of these 325 acres is somehow justified by the fact that these horses are to be removed from public lands on which they are overpopulated and causing harm to native species. And so, the solution becomes move them to private land, where they will be overpopulated and destroy every native species on the private "eco-sanctuary"? That would actually seem a fair exchange if it were only the 325 acres affected, but hay doesn't just fall out of the sky. These horses will require food, just like horses on public lands do, and it will be necessary to disk-over wild lands somewhere to grow the additional food required to feed these horses, with the result that we merely export the environmental consequences of horse overpopulation from public to private land. This proposal does nothing to deal with the issue of horse overpopulation or the environmental damage that results. I hope the BLM will not settle for this "solution" simply because it appears politically expedient.
  3. Objective observer
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    Objective observer - March 30, 2014 9:02 am
    Bison in enclosed pastures are the worst.
  4. Objective observer
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    Objective observer - March 30, 2014 9:01 am
    "It's not the ranchers that are driving that, it's the range management specialists who, believe it or not, do know what they are talking about."

    I take issue with this statement. Working on grazing allotment assessments for the BIA on South Dakota reservations last decade, many of the ranches we evaluated were overgrazed. Nevertheless, the tribes chose not to use our assessments which generally recommended that they reduce the number of AUMs to allow the pastures to recover. The result: worsening pasture conditions and expanding areas with noxious weed infestations. Not all ranchers were like that of course, it was heartening to see the good conditions of pastures on ranches that did not overgraze.
  5. Sukey
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    Sukey - March 30, 2014 6:57 am
    If you think horses destroy everything they trample on, try getting goats. They are far, far worse and they are escape artists.
  6. Sukey
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    Sukey - March 30, 2014 6:54 am
    I've talked to people who lived in Montana during the depression. Most of the State was in the dust bowl as well. They didn't turn the horses loose, they starved to death. No rain, no water, no grass. They didn't eat dust. Northwest Montana wasn't in the dust bowl, however. During that era, and before, I've talked to people that lived in Montana and the Plains States. They turned their horses loose every winter to fend for themselves. Most lived, many died. I asked some of these old timers how long horses lived that kind of life- foraging during the winter, working their horse hinnies off during the summer. I've been told about 14 or 15 years.
  7. brmoderate
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    brmoderate - March 29, 2014 4:41 pm
    It doesn't matter if it is cattle, bison, or wild horses on the range, there is only so many animal units that a range can handle and when that limit is reached, the range suffers. If the animal numbers are allowed to increase and increase and increase without any sort of management, we have a crisis. It's not the ranchers that are driving that, it's the range management specialists who, believe it or not, do know what they are talking about. The cattlemen have only a certain number of days they can graze on public land if they have a lease and when those are up, or if the range is in distress, they have to take their animals off. That doesn't happen with the bison and the wild horses. You can romance it up all you want but the fact remains, the land can only handle so much. Bison and wild horses are going to continue reproducing and reproducing and that puts more burden on the land.
  8. DMarie
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    DMarie - March 29, 2014 4:13 pm
    I agree with Shane and Troutcreek.....cattle have no business on public lands.
    If the BLM would leave the horses alone, they'd be no need for sanctuaries for them.
    But I am thankful they have somewhere to go and run and be somewhat free again, instead of being held in those BLM corrals.
    As far as the BLM's count of horses on the range.....very far fetched.
  9. Dubs
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    Dubs - March 29, 2014 2:28 pm
    O.K. troutcreek, we then will all be required to eat horse burgers? I have tried horse and it's not to bad once you get over the idea that you could be eating Trigger. Horses destroy everything they come in touch with and the result is weed infested land that will not support any other game or livestock. If we think the wolf introduction was a huge mistake, set back, you ain't seen nothing yet!
  10. Bob cat
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    Bob cat - March 29, 2014 12:59 pm
    Most of these horses have their roots from horses released during the depression, talk to anyone who survived the depression years, horses were simply turned loose. Secondly all range can be over grazed by any species it's a factor of the number of animals grazing and the range's production. Anyone who believes one species is more beneficial to the range than another species lacks enough range knowledge to be believable. If you don't believe bison or horses over graze range land just travel around Montana looking at pastures.
    The whole program is a result of huggers who have lost touch with nature and can't see the whole picture.
  11. Shane D
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    Shane D - March 29, 2014 12:28 pm
    from Shane D - if the BLM is behind it, you may be certain it is motivated by their "management to extinction" plan for our American wild horses ! There is no need to set up such "wild horse zoos" in response to a totally invented claim by the BLM that the wild horse population is mysteriously exploding. From 2 million a century ago, the number of wild horses had dwindled to 50,000 and 30,000 of these are currently being held in BLM prisons for no reason but pressure from welfare cattlemen who wish to remove them from the range forever !
    The "three strikes" wild horses being considered for inclusion for adoption in this wild horse zoo are those deemed "unadoptable" by the BLM. The solution to that is simple: let them return to their home ranges from which they should not have been driven in the first place ! The American mustang like the bison belong running freely on the American plains. The twelve million welfare cattle and sheep run by profiteers do not. They are the invasive species. They should be the ones driven off our public lands, not the wild horses or bison!
  12. troutcreek
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    troutcreek - March 29, 2014 8:49 am
    As with the bison, wild horses compete with livestock for grass. Kick the cattle off the range, let the bison and horses have it.
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