30 06 2011






Holy smokes.

One of the craziest days I’ve seen – and a lot of it cleared by the time I left the basin … Well, most but the wind. The WIND. Ferocious? Check.

Do you see what I see?

And that’s what it looked like till the wind blew it away.

My agonized prayers are with all those who have or who are evacuating from their homes because of the wildfires. The smoke here in Southwest Colorado is most likely from the Las Conchas fire near Los Alamos. We pray also for the firefighters working in horrible conditions to save lives and homes.

Be careful out there.

Thoughts on the preliminary EA for SCB roundup

28 06 2011

With less than two weeks before comments are due for the preliminary EA for the Spring Creek Basin roundup this fall, some thoughts.

First, here’s the link to the preliminary EA.

And here is information about where to send your comments.

I’ve been reading over the preliminary EA for our roundup this fall, and our groups (National Mustang Association/Colorado, Four Corners Back Country Horsemen and Mesa Verde Back Country Horsemen – singularly, and collectively as Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners) propose to support “Alternative 1 – Proposed Action: Helicopter drive trap and capture up to 60 wild horses in order to remove 50 excess animals. Apply the contraceptive porcine zona pellucida (PZP) with annual boosters over the next five years, and establish a 60% male sex ratio.”

A roundup IS necessary in Spring Creek Basin with the attendant removal of some horses for the benefit of the herd as a whole and for the finite, fenced environment on which they depend.

Notice that this preliminary EA is for the roundup, not specifically and/or separately for fertility control. I/we thought that was coming in a combined EA, but that’s apparently not the case. The fertility control EA will have to be much more complete – along the lines of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range Fertility Control Environmental Assessment, but there are some things that need to be addressed in the roundup preliminary EA as presented.

Some of my concerns about our preliminary EA:

* Application of PZP: All the mares will need to be treated with primer this fall (primer, not “primary”), not just the mares captured and released. Hopefully, that’s just an oversight in this prelim EA because I’ve been talking about that all along. Also, I wonder when the number of mares to be “treated” fell from 10 to five? This has never been discussed with us by BLM. Note, it’s still “10” on the roundup schedule, even though the number of horses to be captured/removed varies between this preliminary EA (round up 60/remove 50) and the roundup schedule (round up 65/remove 45) – and has changed from the original roundup schedule (round up 90/remove 60). I was never sure where the number 10 came from originally (in fact, this was the first glimmer we had that BLM was planning fertility control here), and I’m making the possibly erroneous assumption that that’s the number of mares BLM thinks to give the booster (as opposed to the primer … but given the information about PZP, the EA writer is unfamiliar with PZP at all) … The point is, that number from BLM is premature; no one knows the post-roundup makeup of the herd or number of total mares, and there is no herd manager or approved fertility control plan in place to dictate for certain one way or another. As it says about gender skewing in this preliminary EA: “It is impossible to determine the sex ratio of captured horses until the gather takes place.” (Page 12, third full paragraph) It also is impossible to determine the number of mares to be boostered (or even given the primer) until the roundup is complete and the number of horses and makeup of the herd is known. But to implement the program, it is necessary to treat all the mares with the primer. They get it just once in their lifetimes, but they have to get it before the booster can be given the first time. The primer needs to be given even if the mare will not be boostered next spring. In the future, we will have a seasonal application plan of boostering selected mares in the late winter/early spring and giving primer doses in the fall to maturing fillies. NMA/CO will pay for the PZP (primer and booster doses) for the first five years. This should not be a problem, and it should not have been overlooked in this preliminary EA.

* Low range of AML: This preliminary EA continually mentions taking the population back to the bottom range of the AML – 35 (AML is 35 to 65 adult horses). We also have repeatedly argued against that, especially with the implementation of an annual PZP darting program. Based on the precedent in Spring Creek Basin of leaving 43 horses after the last roundup and the PMWHR statement that their “Decision Record” states “The population will not be taken to the low range of AML when fertility control is utilized” (top of Page 3), I’d like to see that acknowledged here, especially with the continuation of gender skewing. Even with gender skewing (apparently even less than this prelim EA proposes – gender skewing was said to be 55% stallions/45% mares post-2007 roundup and is planned to be 60% stallions/40% mares this fall), and the PZP-22 that was administered to the released mares in 2007 not working (it worked on one mare; two of the original five have since died), and the introduction of three mares (from Sand Wash Basin, for their genetics) between the last roundup and currently (and three foals produced by two of the mares), we still went four years before a roundup. There’s no rational reason to remove more horses than necessary given BLM’s troubled Wild Horse & Burro Program and all the horses in holding. In fact, rational reason dictates managing horses in the wild as much as possible and appropriate – as is the case here. So our suggestion is for BLM to leave 40-45 horses after this roundup, in conjunction with the annual PZP darting and their 60/40 gender skew. We do not plan to contest the gender skewing – partly because I think it will fall on deaf ears and so it’s not a battle worth fighting at this time, and partly because, if we are given enough time and not hampered in our ability to prove the efficacy of PZP here, it should naturally skew back to normal (and I’m curious enough to see that happen).

* Modeled population growth: Also, I’m disappointed that BLM’s “Win Equus” model of population growth and this preliminary EA seem to present a token use of PZP rather than making full use of it in a plan of sustainable management that will actually save BLM money and labor and us horses. This preliminary EA suggests status quo (even with the use of PZP and gender skewing): the continuation of roundups every few years – three per 10 years (2011, 2016 and, presumably, 2021) – as was done in 2001, 2005 and 2007. Why? Just five years between this roundup and the next? Why? My proposal shows that it’s possible to reduce roundups here from three per decade to one – with all the attendant cost savings, in roundups (lack thereof; this would amount to at least $150,000 in savings per decade in roundups NOT held), and horses going to holding (lack thereof; this is by far the biggest savings over time, at least $2 million saved in horses NOT removed and sent to holding during the decade). So BLM is already anticipating that PZP won’t work? Or that it won’t use the PZP well enough to be as beneficial as it could be? With a roundup in 2011, the next anticipated roundup (by BLM) – indicated by this preliminary EA – will be in 2016 (Page 31) and, presumably, one to follow in 2021, that’s three per decade – exactly what we’re trying to prevent.

Again, reviewing some precedents to the above issues: In 2007, BLM left 43 horses (remember, low end of the AML is 35). Pryor Mountain, in its fertility control EA (which, again, we do NOT yet have here …), says that when PZP is used, the herd population does NOT need to be reduced to the low end of the AML. Mention is made in our EA (Page 12) that it is “impossible to determine the sex ratio of captured horses until the gather takes place.” By all logic, it also is impossible to know how many mares to treat post-roundup with PZP – other than with primer, and this number should be “all.” 😉

A concern raised specifically by our Colorado chapter of the National Mustang Association is the lack of mention of our group’s longtime role in advocating for these particular mustangs – about 15 years’ worth.

On page 41, the preliminary EA states: “The Four Corners Back Country Horsemen has helped obtain horse counts in the Spring Creek Basin HMA for several consecutive years (I believe this is at least 12 years). They also have been consulted regarding the proposed gather and subsequent local adoption. Some members have expressed an interest in observing the gather but none have expressed any specific concerns relative to the gather or the adoption.”

I guess I can’t speak for 4CBCH, but NMA/CO and MVBCH have expressed concerns – members of both our groups made comments at the public hearing. Not mentioned? Why? Also, although 4CBCH has, indeed, conducted counts all these years, BLM has not very often taken their counts into account. Case in point: In February 2007, a flyover was conducted during which two BLM personnel (the then-current herd area manager and the previous herd area manager) counted horses. They each (separately, we were told) observed “97 horses.” In May that year, during their annual count, 4CBCH counted about 120 horses. Based on my knowledge of the 2007 roundup and subsequent documents and my own documentation, there were between 110 and 120 horses in the herd. Based on the numbers in this preliminary EA we’re now discussing, there were at least 118 horses present in the herd pre-roundup 2007. 4CBCH just about nailed it – but was discounted.

In the paragraph above the aforementioned, it states: “A local wild horse advocacy group the Disappointment Wild Bunch [Partners] (affiliated with the Colorado Chapter of the National Mustang Association (NMA)), has worked closely with BLM on several projects and have been consulted regarding both the proposed gather and the adoption planned immediately afterward at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. In ” (One wonders what got cut out …)

Correctly, NMA/CO is one of the represented groups that make up Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners. Each group holds equal representation as a stakeholder in the welfare and well-being of the Spring Creek Basin wild horse herd. NMA/CO was formed at the request of a former BLM herd area manager (surprise?) and is the longest-serving advocate of the Spring Creek Basin herd.

Also, no mention is made of the specific, extensive documentation project conducted (by yours truly) that enables – finally – a sustainable management plan for this herd – and would allow for NOT BRANDING PZP-treated mares. This hasn’t been mentioned, but it’s a lingering concern. NMA/CO, 4CBCH and MVBCH have been the foundation and support of the documentation work I’ve been able to do to reach this point. Nationwide, BLM hasn’t been able to figure out a sustainable management plan in 40 years (euthanization, sterilization, tens of thousands of horses in holding, more being rounded up, HMAs and HAs zeroed out/reduced in size … need I say more?!) – though some individual herds have and are on that path (Little Book Cliffs, Pryor Mountain, McCullough Peaks). Now we have been able to, in less than three years, hand BLM a sustainable management plan on a silver platter. We had hoped bait trapping would be the method of this roundup … but that’s another story … and it’s likely coming in the future.

I’m extremely proud of the accomplishments we’ve made, and I’m cautiously optimistic for the future (I say that a lot; it has been a frustrating journey in many ways). We have a lot more work to do, but we’re here, we’re obviously not going away, and we will continue to advocate for the sustainable future of our Spring Creek Basin mustangs.

Again, with any questions, please contact me by leaving a comment or email me at mtbgrrl (at) fone (dot) net. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog and enjoyer of these mustangs, you are aware of most of the unique components of this herd and how/why we’ve arrived at this point. If not, I’ll be happy to explain some of the “back story” in more detail. Thank you with all appreciation for your support of our Spring Creek Basin mustangs.

Some to love

27 06 2011

It occurred to me that I wouldn’t get any of these posted if I tried to do them in some kind of order – the always way of it these days – so here are some pix of some horses … Beautiful, all.

Houdini and Deniz.

I’ve been expecting the usual migration westward as the forage and water grows scarce back in the east. One of the two ponds back there is holding pretty steady, though, so several bands are (still) taking advantage of it. Grey/Traveler’s band, however, had made the trip, and I found them at afternoon water in the Wildcat Spring area. There’s enough water there this year – interestingly – that there are some stagnant pockets of it along the wash. I heard the girls (Terra, Gemma and Corona) playing in one such puddle, though I couldn’t get a clear look at them because of the obscuring greasewood on the banks. Mama and baby and Grey were above the arroyo. Deniz is going grey fast, like sister Gemma. She’s a big tall girl, eh?

Baby girls Briosa, left, and Eliana, with Bri’s mama Piedra in the background. Eli’s mama Mahogany was grazing down to the right (a pic is with the “Oppose sterilization” post of a few days ago). I wanted my wide-angle lens for, well, not the first time, I guess, to try to capture some of the beautiful background of the basin “behind” the fillies as they napped.

There’s some of it behind Hollywood, who was, I think, watching Aspen and Sundance, close-ish again. In the near background is part of the north side of the east-west hill, and in the far-ish background (not all the way back) is part of what I call Lizard Mesa.

Eli gives Bri a little post-nap nuzzle. They’re now at the age to be interested in each other. Bri, not quite a month older than Eli, is considerably bigger and stouter.

Sunny little Eliana is just a beautiful little princess of a filly.

Piedra was closest, and after she got up, Bri walked right over for a snack. Eli lingered, though, taking her sweet time walking down the slope, stopping, looking at mama, at stepdaddy (Sundance is Eliana’s sire), at me, back at Bri … before finally going on down for her own lunch. Bri’s a stout little girl, eh? Takes after daddy.

Speaking of daddies, here’s Varoujan with his daddy – Butch.

And with mama.

Kreacher’s band weren’t too far, and I waited for them, too, to mosey their way up to, across and off the road (it was like rush hour out there! 😉 ). This was a horizontally shot image I took through the passenger-side window and cropped into a vertical. I also took the image a post or so back of Apollo looking through his legs horizontally and cropped it vertically. I crop almost all my photos – some more than others.

Heading out of the basin for the evening: Hook’s band. I couldn’t decide between this one and …

… this one. Ponies gilded with light, those hills in the back! The near-ish hills are part of Spring Creek Basin, our northwest hills; the far-ish hills to the sky are outside the basin but still part of Disappointment Valley, basically, the far northeastern edge (the basin is tucked a little lower into the valley’s east-northeastern side). From left: black Sable and grey Twister, hanging with the band; almost yearling Fierro looking toward the camera and dark bay Pinon behind him; grey Ember, bay Hannah and Hook. Ember is due close to any time now.

Worth the wait

26 06 2011

Mama Two Boots grazed while Boreas napped and Rio guarded, and I watched and waited. When the little guy was tired, he laid down literally in the middle of the road – dirt softer than pricklies! Chrome and Jif and Hayden came down from their rock climbing to nap beneath a tree, and when Boreas got up, mama started grazing her way up the hill toward them.

Yearling Rio, baby brother Boreas and mama Two Boots, on the flanks of Filly Peak with nearly the whole of Spring Creek Basin stretching away before them to the dominating eastern ridges of the far boundary.

Chrome, Jif and Hayden under a tree right at the base of Filly Peak. Jif is showing obvious signs of her bundle-to-come. She (her belly, to clarify) looks bigger than Kootenai, but she’s also smaller and has had a foal (Hayden). My best guess for her is August-September. There was a question last year of who the sire of her foal was, but I would have known by the timing of the foal’s birth. Unfortunately, she’s one of the mares that lost her foal last year, and I’m not exactly sure when (I was also gone in late August for PZP training). Hayden will be 2 on Sept. 22.

Big baby boy Boreas and his sweet mama.

Hook’s band was just around the corner – also on the road – so I stopped and waited for them, too. They very graciously grazed off the road on the driver’s side of the Jeep, so I just aimed my camera right through the window. The best photos I got, though, were later that evening as I was leaving, with the sun rimming their handsome selves with layered hills and rocks in the background. To come. 🙂

Seldom seen

25 06 2011

It was hot enough to feel like July in the basin this week. Many horses were close to the roads, and I took advantage of the Jeep’s shade. In fact, I waited for about an hour when I first arrived for Boreas, Rio and Two Boots to give up their claim to a certain stretch of road by Filly Peak. Chrome, Jif and Hayden were up on the flanks of Filly Peak, browsing among the boulders. When Boreas laid down, Rio dutifully stood guard over little brother, just like Whisper has been watching over little sister Aurora. I can’t tell you how much I love watching that kind of simple, beautiful interaction between siblings.

But before I saw them, I saw these seldom-seen ponies:

David’s family! I was looking deep into the herd area from the Disappointment Road, looking for tell-tale spots (that hold my heart) and was a little startled to see these guys so close – just inside the fence across a deep arroyo.

Sweet little Coal. I didn’t even step into the basin to take these photos – just took ’em right from the fence while the horses grazed without a care in the world. Love the rich bays and deep blacks of these ponies.

As an aside, when that wind quits blowing (the wind quits blowing??), the gnats are now out in force. I just had a conversation about this with a friend … I do use bug spray – and haven’t found it very effective – but the thing I’ve found that works best by far is a simple net over my head. Friends have nets that incorporate a thin, flexible metal band that keeps the net held out a bit from your head. I couldn’t find one like that, so mine just drapes. The visor I always wear keeps it away from my face, but it can get a little stifling when the wind does pause for a bit, and it makes your view darker, of course. But it’s better than being driven insane or devoured! It doesn’t help with the biting flies that go for any exposed skin, but the gnats seem to like faces. If you spend a lot of time out-a-doors, I’d heartily recommend the small investment.


24 06 2011

A and the kids who named Apollo were out in the basin yesterday evening! Great to see her again (we met at my talk this spring in Telluride) and meet the kids who gave Apollo his royal name! Thank you!

I had just come from seeing him and his family and was watching Chrome’s family from the road before I headed out for the day when they drove up. I didn’t realize it was them until they stopped alongside the Jeep because I had my shade/visor in the windshield to protect from the late, low-angle sunshine while I finished notes and enjoyed the horses grazing nearby. What a nice surprise!

Here’s a cute pic of the *big* mister:

And one of him with mama a little earlier in the day:

I hope you guys made it back in time to see them! I think of ya’ll every time I see the boy!

Oppose sterilization

24 06 2011

Sterilizing wild horses is NOT management. BLM has apparently “reconsidered” spaying mares in two Wyoming herds (White Mountain and Little Colorado) but plans to continue with the gelding of stallions.

No, no and NO.


Why BLM in general *won’t* come up with sustainable management plans is beyond me. It talks about that often enough. In fact, we’ve effected change here by showing local BLM just how workable sustainable management can be. In 40 years, things have gone from bad to worse with these hare-brained ideas apparently designed to allow BLM to do little to nothing about their responsibility to wild horses and burros AND the American public for whom mustangs and burros are managed. And yet, when I talk about fertility control in the form of REVERSIBLE PZP, people invariably ask: “Why don’t they just geld the stallions and return them?”

* Horribly invasive.

* Horses must be rounded up and captured to do it.

* Horses must (?!) be held in corrals while they heal.

* Complications?? One of the introduced Spring Creek Basin stallions (three were introduced in the late 1980s or so) was later removed to a sanctuary, where he was gelded … and bled out … How often does this happen insanitary conditions? In a temporary pen full of other horses in dusty range conditions …??

* If I wanted to see a pasture – no matter the size – of geldings, I’d take a drive up the road to see ranch horses. Talk about upsetting the natural dynamic of wild and free-roaming (as much as possible) horses.

In contrast, fertility control such as PZP is reversible. By its use, we’re not trying to stop population growth, just limit it to sustainable levels. Periodic removals will still occur but with less frequency and hopefully on a much smaller scale than currently. While I fully appreciate that annual darting is not feasible or even possible in many large areas, where it IS, it should be used.

As adamantly as I support limiting population growth, I am adamantly opposed to stopping it altogether.

Comanche, by Veryl

21 06 2011

I visited my friend Claude Steelman yesterday at his gallery in Durango, and he asked me the identity of a horse in a photo he had taken in about 2009. I had been eyeing it, and as best I can tell by the angle, it’s Comanche. Then he pointed to a bronze sculpture on the counter, “Dust Devil,” and said it’s Veryl Goodnight’s rendition of  Comanche in the photo.


Photos of it are featured in her new book, No Turning Back; The Art of Veryl Goodnight.

I don’t think Claude has the photo on his website, but if you were to look at the sculpture from the back left, with him facing more forward than in the pic of the sculpture on the website, that’s the photo Claude caught of Comanche, backlit with dust wreathing his hooves.

Our Comanche – in bronze. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

Stallion action

21 06 2011

My friend Karen Keene Day came out to visit the horses with me last week, her first trip back to the basin since she and her husband are back in Colorado for the summer. We got to witness some changing of the guard between former dominant band stallion Steeldust and bachelor Mouse.

Steeldust was formerly in charge of the biggest band in the basin – the biggest after the roundup, with only Alpha having been rounded up (and released). (As an aside, for people who are worried about the effects of PZP and PZP-22 on mares, Alpha has been with the same band since her release, bred by just two stallions – Steeldust and Butch – and oddly enough, not only did PZP-22 apparently work really well on Alpha, she still has not foaled. (It didn’t work on the other three mares, ranging from no effect at all to a delay in foaling of two months.) The point is, she has been coming into heat since she last foaled in July 2008, and not only has she not been “raped,” the bachelors once with the band have all dispersed but one and found their own families, and the band has naturally broken up as youngsters grew up and dispersed. And, as it happens, she’s in fantastic condition – and so is her almost-3-year-old son, Storm, who has had his own band since this spring (as a 2.5-year-old).)

Mouse, the bachelor still with the band, managed to get between Steeldust and the band a few weeks ago, but Steeldust quickly re-established his dominance over Mouse, if not son Butch. Last week, Mouse had managed to turn the tables again.

Mouse, right, chases Steeldust. This photo is quite a bit cropped; the band is almost directly behind me.

Circle of life … It was hard to see Steeldust, still in his prime, so frantic to get back to “his” band, even knowing it’s nature’s way. Imagine all the stories those scars tell. When we left, though, the stallions were grazing calmly together, with Alpha and Luna and Gideon and Varoujan nearby.

The future … Varoujan

And a guy in his own prime – Kreacher

Life goes on …

Mamas and babies – and more

21 06 2011

Where does the time go? Father’s Day is past, so I thought I’d show off some mamas and babies …

Aurora checking out mama’s lovely ear.

Kestrel and her Juniper-girl

Enjoying the sunshine – love their sweet faces.

Mama Kestrel – back right – with her gorgeous girls: yearling Winona and baby Juniper.

More, random:

Juniper, glowing in morning sunlight.


Winona and baby sister Juniper.

Mama and her girls


With baby sister Aurora.

One on the way …

Handsome Apollo, son of:


Kreacher has just two babies that I know of (Shane (Mona) and Apollo (Raven)), but I’ll never know how many babies venerable Bounce has sired. Whisper and Aurora are the latest.

It was so cool so see her seek out this dead branch – that mama had walked past – up to it, sniff it, then deliberately walk over it. I love the concentration on her little face as she tucks that hind leg WAY up to step over the branch! Mustang skillz!

I don’t think I posted this one already? Whisper, 2, is apparently remembering the goods while baby sister Aurora nurses, and Alegre is nuzzling baby even as she pins her ears at her elder offspring, who has wisely approached from baby’s side, using her as a shield!

Using mama’s tail to rid her of the gnats, which aren’t that bad this year, probably because of the near-constant wind. Not that it’s rarely windy in the basin – it’s always windy – but this year seems particularly windy, though we haven’t had the awful dust storms of past years.

Lovely Alegre – her grace and beauty just astound me.

And one more …

Sego lilies before dawn (or at least before the sun topped the eastern ridges) that morning. On my way to looking for horses before the light found us, I “stopped to” admire the segos. They’ve been up for a couple of weeks now, but this was the first time I found them with just a light breeze, not the stout, alive thing that made them whip impossibly to photograph.