20 03 2011

Bruiser is readily identifiable from a distance – and more so now because he’s by himself. When I saw him, we were quite a distance apart, and he was on a hill. Sometimes the horses spread way out grazing, and you can’t always see all the horses in a particular band because of hills, arroyos, etc. I had walked out to check the Round Top pond post-winter (or at least mostly post-snow), and I decided to go on out to him.

Sometimes you can’t see all of any one horse – just backs above ridges. That’s how I spotted Seven and Mona, though I didn’t know for a few minutes whether it WAS Seven and Mona … or Chrome and Jif (very light grey and dun … very light grey and dun) – until I saw more of them.

The pond has water, but it’s by no means full. Two of the non-dug-out ponds are dry or down to mud; Flat Top pond hasn’t been dug out yet, but it and the other ponds are very shallow. The main double pond is so shallow I can see hoofprints through the water tracking across its bottom.

Unfortunately, something else I saw out there shouldn’t have been there: tire tracks from an ATV. The Round Top pond got dug out because it’s just outside the McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area boundary. Beyond the pond is WSA – no motorized/mechanized  vehicles allowed (not even chain saws) – “recreation vehicle use off existing travel routes … are not allowed.” Unfortunately, those weren’t the only tracks I’d see in the WSA; even deeper into the WSA, way to the south, more tracks. In fact, all along the main roads through the basin, someone was driving off onto the sides, making big circles and arcs. Why? Why not park on the road (not a lot of traffic!) or just off – right alongside – and GET OUT AND WALK?! These were places where it looked like the driver drove to the edge of a hill or ridge to look beyond – from inside the vehicle. I saw tracks like that all around the loop and near Filly Peak – even off the road along some horse trails and up into arroyos that the road crosses.

The whole photo itself, nothing to write home about. But don’t you love that gorgeous, graceful swish of his multicolored tail?

Bruiser is not a big guy, but he’s very stout. Without a mare to protect, he was very relaxed – not worried about me at all.

I passed below Seven’s band, grazing up a hill from the trail I walked out on (from the pond) – and as far as I know, they never saw me (this band, you know when they know). We were all right out in the open. I stopped a couple of times to let them see me … Seven was napping with his butt to me, Roja and Mona were grazing with their heads down, Shane and Ze were grazing, wandering, low behind a little “rise” between Seven and the girls. I decided to go on out to see Bruiser and discover if Spring was out of sight and also look over the hill he was on, which has a view down the drainage toward the Disappointment Road, hoping to spot the pintos.

Big Bruise, with the unnamed promontory behind him. The pyramid-shaped McKenna Peak – namesake of the WSA – is slightly to the left and back. Seven’s and Round Top are behind me.

I did walk on around, though his calm attitude from the beginning was the tipoff that Spring wasn’t around. He was almost out of sight when I got out to his hill – just his back visible as he grazed slightly on the “downside” of the hill. So I stopped and waited for him to graze his way into view. It’s a startling thing to look up from your peaceful grazing and see an intruder who has “snuck” up on you. And the wind was blowing from the south – toward me. He eventually looked up, kept chewing, and went back to grazing! Sometimes, they truly surprise me.

In past visits, I’ve driven slowly past a place along the Disappointment Road (which follows the boundary for a few miles on the southwest end) where the horses are sometimes visible – and which makes walking in to visit them quite a bit easier than walking in not knowing where in the WSA they could be – and haven’t seen the pintos – though I’ve seen David, Shadow and their Wind a couple of times. I was almost ready to turn back to Bruiser when I spotted something – down by the road. Sure enough, horses. I could identify Ty and part of a pinto and a couple of dark bays – Spring? But as I’ve already tipped off by my previous post, she wasn’t with them – must have been Mesa and/or Milagro and/or Maiku (the white marking over his neck above his withers is easier to see from one side). But I was hopeful at the time.

Oh, Bruiser. Where has our Spring gone?



3 responses

20 03 2011
Poor Ginger

Bruiser is sure a handsome guy. Markings, tail, mane, and that LONG forelock! Sure looks like some Spanish Colonial blood to me. And Spring is still nowhere to be seen? Now you’ve got me worried, but not anywhere close to what you must be. Seems she’s a wanderer, but don’t wild mares seek the protection of stallions, and not go far on their own?

And who the heck is off-road? Is this illegal in any way? If so, maybe the warning signs need some fines attached, along with a “Crimestoppers” reward. Since some of this is in a WSA, are there any officials (like Park Rangers?) who could investigate? Who’s conducting the study? If it was me, I’d certainly want to know someone is undermining my work. Is the Spring Creek HMA posted like the others?

Then there’s the water situation. Looks like the only snow is really high up, and you’ve said Spring Creek isn’t good water. To your knowledge, has it been this bad before, and, if so, did the BLM do anything about it? This is from the 8/10 BLM Twin Peaks pre-roundup report: “If critical water sources start to dry up and alternate sources are not available, BLM will import water either by water tank truck or by helicopter with a bucket drop.”

They installed guzzlers at the Pryor Mountain HMA in 2010. Don’t know how many, but the project cost $100,000 – which actually isn’t much for government work, but I don’t imagine it’s in the BLM’s vanishing budget for 2011. Little to no rain = no fill-up for the tanks, so the water would probably have to be trucked in at Spring Creek.

Sorry about so many questions, but I’m concerned.

20 03 2011

I think the “foundation pinto sire” – Spook (our girl is named after him) – originally came from Wyoming.

I wasn’t too worried when I first noticed Spring was missing from her band … but now that she’s not with Bruiser – or the pintos or David’s or several other bands, I’m starting to worry (though there’s nothing I can do about the end result, either way). She could be with Cinch’s little band or maybe with Poco and Roach, none of which I saw this last week. I’ve heard of wild mares going off by themselves – some Pryor Mountain examples. And not just when they’re about to foal, though that’s been the only instances I’ve seen in Spring Creek Basin. The other thing about Spring is that she’ll be just a yearling this year. Not that that’s unusual for our herd, either (look at Hannah and Sable last year, Shadow a couple of years ago), but I’d be very surprised to find her by herself.

Right off the road isn’t illegal, I don’t think. It just annoys me because of the vegetation – which isn’t all that abundant, if you haven’t noticed (I’m speaking rhetorically, of course) – that gets crushed … and because it’s not all that far, and what stops people from getting out of their vehicle and WALKING over to the edge of the hill or ridge for a look?! Driving off and away from designated roads IS illegal, however, and there’s a big giant huge sign right beside the road when you drive into the basin that you can’t miss that says just that. Part of the problem is that there are a lot of illegal routes that have been driven in over time, and no one has worried about it. In the last few years, I’ve helped put up some “NO MOTOR VEHICLES” signs and helped “reclaim” the routes and block them, but people go around or over some of them anyway. I’ve been trying to get more signs/work placed/done, but I haven’t had much interest from the local office. Several need to be done still. Driving any kind of vehicle in the WSA is definitely illegal. There are no roads. One BLM ranger has been exceptionally responsive, but there’s not a lot he can do with just tire tracks. A couple of times previously, I’ve contacted him, and he’s already aware of certain situations. (Really, I have only good things to say about this man.) I take pictures to keep in my files. It’s remote. 🙂 Not many people to see it happening.

I don’t think the WSA is literally being “studied,” as in researched. It’s a designation that sometimes leads to full Wilderness Area status, and McKenna Peak WSA apparently has had that designation for a while.

With the five ponds dug out (to better hold the moisture we DO get), we’re probably in better shape than we have been (and yes, it’s been this dry – and drier – before). We have a water catchment – that NMA/CO paid for – and a 12-year-old signed agreement with BLM for a second one … that remains unbuilt/unconstructed/not built. NMA/CO pays for water to be hauled to the catchment in dry years. We’ve done it at least once the last couple of years, I think – once because the float mysteriously came unscrewed and let all the water overflow the trough. Part of the problem with the current one is its location: Only some of the horses ever wander into/through that area where it’s located. We’ve been talking about guzzlers for at least the 3+ years I’ve been involved with a consistent reaction – nothing. And yes, I’ve been talking about Pryor Mountain’s installation of guzzlers. “It won’t work.” And yet, they apparently do … just not here? Sorry, my frustration is showing. The pintos – hanging out consistently in the WSA as they do – get the shaft when it comes to water. Can’t dig out ponds there (though there is a “water source” on the map that I’m not sure is natural) and can’t install guzzlers/catchments because of the “wilderness value” clause (though it’s been done in other WSAs, to my limited knowledge).

With the water … we come full circle around to the necessity of a roundup: Water is the most limited resource in the basin – and the most limiting when it comes to the wildlife population the area can support.

21 03 2011
Lynn Bauer and Kathy Pariso

We’ve been to Spring Creek Basin several times since April 2008 and have kept copious notes about the horses/their families and the water situation. TJ is absolutely right, this wonderful place is extremely FRAGILE, meaning ANY wheeled travel too far off of the designated roads kills the available forage for the horses! This kind of activity is horribly damaging!! We’ve come across folks on ATV-type vehicles and (with a polite and concerned approach) warned them NOT to leave the designated road and why it’s so important that they don’t. We think any concerned visitor can and should do the same!

As far as the water is concerned, TJ is again right. Water is THE MOST CRITICAL FACTOR in the horses’ survival. This area absolutely cannot sustain unlimited numbers of horses – it just cannot! There are options out there (guzzlers, for instance). We have no idea why the local office there doesn’t seem to want to do right by the wildlife, including the wild horses of Spring Creek Basin…

We support a fertility-control program, such as the one TJ has proposed, to help control the birthrate in the Basin. Unfortunately, this year’s crop of foals, does push the Basin into a situation in which a roundup should be done. We’d prefer a “bait and trap” method, rather than helicopters for obvious reasons but, it must be done. We don’t look forward to such a thing but, it’s better than the “alternative,” isn’t it? Whatever happens, we will continue to offer our support and help to the horses of Spring Creek Basin in any way that we can as long as we can – count on it!

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