SUBLETTE COUNTY – Years in the making, the Bureau of Land Management released its proposed amendment for its Rock Springs and Rawlins field offices’ wild horse resource management plan along with the 400-plus-page final environmental impact statement on May 6.
None are likely to please everyone, and the BLM’s proposed amendment cuts down current numbers and boundaries.
Protests must be filed within 30 days by June 6. The BLM will offer resolutions and issue its record of decision after those 30 days.
The four herd management areas or HMAs examined in the Rock Springs and Rawlins planning areas are those with checkerboard public-private blocks that were addressed in a 2013 U.S. District Court decree. A checkerboard block is 1 square mile and traditionally unfenced.
They are the Great Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek, Adobe Town and White Mountain HMAs with admittedly higher horse numbers than recommended or allowed.
In April, the BLM reported Wyoming had 4,734 wild horses against its maximum appropriate management level of 3,795 on 14 HMAs.
Alternatives range from removing all wild horses in the four HMAs to shifting them off the private-public checkerboard, where the Rock Springs Grazing Association is the private owner.
Something has to happen, the Rock Springs Field Office acknowledged, because the grazing group revoked permission for wild horses to roam on its private blocks with little control of those exceeding its AML.
The result – the court-approved decree ordered the BLM to explore how to manage the wild horses’ population growth in light of problematic gathers that criss-crossed the private blocks.
Scoping began in 2011; the comment period was extended in 2013.
“Issues identified for wild horse management during this scoping period focused on how the BLM would manage wild horse populations,” the document says.
The four alternatives appear to balance wild horse reproduction, private property rights, public lands uses – and visitor and businesspeople’s desire to see the horses remain wild and easily visible to the public, for example along the popular Wild Horse Scenic Route.
Alternative A – No action
This keeps current management with AMLs agreed between wild horse advocates and the Rock Springs Grazing Association. However, these came before the RSGA withdrew its permission for wild horses to roam on its private blocks.
“Under this alternative, the BLM would manage wild horses within these four HMAs at a total AML of 1,481 to 2,065,” the final EIS says.” Water developments would be provided as necessary. Fencing would only be constructed when multiple-use values would be enhanced and would be built to minimize restriction of wild horse movement.”
Expensive, numerous fences around public blocks would keep the horses in, not popular with previous commenters.
Fertility control would be used “when necessary” and the public could enjoy seeing wild horse herds and more interpretive signs and sites. Gathers would be more frequent and tourism maintained.
Wild horses would be removed from all four HMAs’ checkerboard portions to only solid-block BLM land and be managed as “non-reproducing.”
All checkerboard lands in Adobe Town, Great Divide Basin and Salt Wells Creek HMAs would “revert to Herd Area (HA) status and be managed for zero wild horses.”
Great Divide Basin and Salt Wells Creek would maintain its AMLs; livestock AUMs are decreased to provide forage for the same number of horses in a reduced area.
Adobe Town’s AML would be reduced to 225 to 450 wild horses. White Mountain would keep its boundary and checkerboard lands with a reduced AML of 99 to 250 animals.
The Wild Horse Scenic Loop is “maintained.”
From this planning area, 2,065 wild horses would be permanently removed.
Alternative D, BLM proposal
Removal of 1,299 horses for a total AML of 464 to 836 wild horses and closing some HMAs would reduce numbers by 60 percent, the FEIS says.
The Rock Springs portion of Adobe Town would be managed for zero wild horses. In the Rawlins portion, all checkerboard lands and land north of an existing allotment boundary would be managed the same. The rest of Adobe Town would have an AML of 259 to 536 horses. Both the Great Divide Basin Divide and Salt Wells Creek HMAs would be managed for no horses.
White Mountain would remain the same and include checkerboard land, with an AML of 205 to 300 horses for which the BLM plans “population growth suppression strategies.”
Viewing opportunities would be reduced, as would tourism, but the range habitat would improve, the document says.
The BLM’s release of its proposed wild horse RMP amendment and FEIS set in motion the 30-day protest period ending on June 6. The FEIS and protest form are at https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2009946/510.