Pond maintenance

10 02 2009

A week or two ago, I met with our BLM herd area manager, Bob Ball, to talk about ponds to dig out this year. Our Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners group had identified this as a priority for the herd area to make sure the horses have accessible water throughout all the seasons. The water catchment provides fresh water, but not all the horses take advantage of it. It’s fairly centrally located – if you’re a “northern” horse. The pintos, which seem to stay exclusively in the southern portion of the herd area, don’t venture past Round Top. The boys they’re with now have made past excursions into the north but not since they kicked Bruiser off the throne. Poco, Bones and Roach are “eastern” ponies and have their own comfort zone. Seven and his girls roam quite a bit, but they’re shy, and the open area where the catchment is might be too open and exposed for them.

The soil of Disappointment Valley is very alkaline and erodes at a high rate. That white stuff you see on the ground in the summer sure ain’t snow. Every so often, the BLM goes in and digs out some of the ponds to restore their holding capacity. Wild horse observer Tom Brueckner brought to my attention some erosion channels in some of the ponds (notably those by Round Top and Flat Top) last year that contribute to the water draining out even faster, and I then took that information to the Wild Bunch. Those two ponds particularly, which many people from the Back Country Horsemen said they had never seen dry, were dry by April last year, remained dry all year and even after snow to date, were still dry the most recent times I saw them.

So those two ponds  (north of Flat Top and south of Round Top) are on the list to get dug out this year by Forest Service crews when they get to that area during their seasonal maintenance rounds. Bob applied for money in a fund filled by district grazing fees to get the work done – yay! Copying from his email so I get it right, they are “range betterment dollars … half of the BLM livestock grazing fees collected in our area.” The three other ponds we identified for work are as follows:

* “Double ponds” in the heart of Poco and Bones and Roach’s’ territory in the east. Those two are VERY shallow and typically don’t hold water after early spring.

* “Sorrel flats pond” off the loop road in the east. Also very shallow. I’ve never seen it (or don’t remember seeing it) with water, but it’s in a good location a little north of the double ponds and a little south of the pond off the doubletrack in the “east pocket” that the horses favored part of last year. It went dry last summer but then filled back up after some rainstorms the end of summer/early fall. Quite a few bands were using that pond last year, including Traveler’s, Steeldust’s, Seven’s and Bounce’s. This “sorrel flats pond” is a little closer to the top end of P, B & R’s territory. (For you map folks, it’s just slightly east of the “valley” between Knife Edge and Lizard Mesa, on the east side of the road.)

* The pond just off the road that goes out the herd area’s north entrance (not heavily used but there nonetheless). This one also is pretty shallow and marshy. It did have water last year, and went dry, and had water, and went dry again, but a few bands (Traveler’s, Steeldust’s, Bounce’s) were intermittently in that area – and then most notably the introduced mares last fall – and there was good grazing. If there was a reliable water source there, the horses might utilize that area more.

The ponds have to be dry to get big equipment in there and dig them out, so it should happen around May/June, and I am stoked! I think this is the first “action” that has come from our new Wild Bunch’s partnership with the BLM – we’ve met a few times to outline our wants/needs/strengths/etc. Wild Bunch Partners are: Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association, San Juan Mountains Association, Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen, Four Corners Back Country Horsemen and, of course, the BLM. It’s a tiny group – one representative of each of those groups makes up the Wild Bunch, with Bob from the BLM. Some of us overlap memberships, and one of us is a member of each group! I’m a member of two, plus I did the documentation of the horses. I don’t know if I should put their names here as the private citizens they are, but if you know P, K, T, P and Bob, thank them for their hard work (and dedication despite snow storms and some health issues).

Two upcoming “events” in the basin are worth mentioning:

In March, K from SJMA will host her ninth (?) group of University of Missouri students for their “alternative spring break” program. The kids come to Southwest Colorado and do a variety of work on public lands – including in the herd area. For the past couple of years (at least), they’ve been working hard to eradicate tamarisk. Last year, they also put in the base for our new interpretive sign at the entrance.

May 16 is the date of this year’s count by the Back Country Horsemen. For the past 10 years, P and her husband, with the Four Corners Back Country Horsemen, have partnered with the BLM to ride and drive/walk into the basin to spot horses and provide a rough count of the wild horse population. Last year was the first time I attended. They saw all but three (Poco, Bones and Roach were hiding)! And they have a great time camping and riding and talking and cooking/eating and swapping (tall) tales with each other. This year, Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen are going to join the fun.

I went back through my pix to find some to illustrate a couple of the ponds for this post, and I made a cool discovery.

Flat Top pond

Flat Top pond

This photo was taken April 10, 2004. Surely you’ll recognize pretty Alpha. At the time, she was boss mare of Traveler’s band – most of them seen in the background. In fact, that’s Traveler at far right, butt to the camera. He was a lot darker just a few years ago, eh? Look closely at the grey horse directly “above” Alpha. Does she look familiar?

Traveler at Flat Top pond

Traveler at Flat Top pond

That’s her again at right … She probably looks less familiar from this angle. Does anyone know who she is?

Houdini!! As the world turns, eh??

Boss mare drinks first

Boss mare drinks first

 This has always been one of my favorite photos because of the band behavior it clearly shows.

Round Top pond

Round Top pond

This was taken March 9, 2008, and those are some of Steeldust’s horses. Compare Alpha in the photos.

Wider view of Round Top pond

Wider view of Round Top pond

Same pond, same day. Hollywood at left, and look who’s walking away – Jif. My, how things change. Speaking of change, this pond – and the one by Flat Top – was mostly dry by mid-April, just a month after this photo was taken.

Not snow

Not snow

This picture is from June 22, 2008: Bones and Poco (Roach was on top of the arroyo to the right). They were drinking from a fairly good trickle of water from a super-duper top-secret seep just a little “up-arroyo.”

Baby soft

Baby soft

Poco was standing in the water in the pic above; here’s baby Pinon demonstrating how cool mud makes for a perfect nap spot! This was taken June 27; Pinon was just a little older than a month here. Remember how light he was when he was “little”? Still not “big” but a whole lot darker now!

Sunshine peeking out of the clouds as I finish this post. I shoveled about 6 inches of snow off the deck yesterday and about 8 inches off this morning. More storms are coming like waves. It won’t be easy on the horses out in the basin, but more snow now means more green growing things this spring and more water in more places longer into summer! And the ponies look so good now with their thick winter coats, I can’t wait to see them slick and shiny when winter is a thing of the past – for another year, anyway.


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