Happy Independence Day!

3 07 2011

What cost, freedom? What value? What would we do to preserve it?

That others fought and fell – fight and fall – so we may live independent of tyranny and oppression, we must never forget.


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2 responses

4 07 2011
Barbara Flores

TJ, I have found your blog about the Spring Creek wild horses very helpful and informative. I would like to ask you how many horses you are seeing out there this year, also, how many are over the age of 1 year? I have not been on the Spring Creek HMA since July of 2000, just before the August 2000 round-up, but was out there several times in the years between 1990 and 2000, both alone and with Dr. Fitzgerald. Can you tell me where the horses are in the HMA at different times of the year? Sounds like they migrate seasonally quite a bit. How many Sand Wash mares are in there now? Are there any SW stallions? This bothers me, as it compromises the integrity of the historical herds that were in the area. Would like to see the herd managed at a viable AML of at least 150. However, the Spring Creek/Naturita herd will never be the same now that the SW bloodlines have been intermingled. Would like to talk to you about this herd at your convenience. Thank you.

Barb Flores
Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition, Inc.
(970) 302-0766

4 07 2011
TJ

I’m eager to talk with you, given your previous knowledge of Spring Creek Basin. I have learned quite a bit from various sources, including folks who are still associated with the herd after the last 10-15 years or so, and am interested in gleaning all the knowledge I can about this herd.

Without the geography changes such as at Pryor Mountain, the migration patterns of the horses here are more subtle. In the spring, many bands are in the east, with water (a second pond was dug out last year) and forage. Some bands have moved out of the area now, whether because of pressure from other bands and/or declining resources (one of the two ponds is nearly dry), I can’t say with complete accuracy. The bands generally start to move northwestward toward Wildcat Spring and/or toward the interior of the basin – because of the water sources there and in arroyo seeps. The lack of snow this winter and rain so far this year has been excruciating. What has always interested me is the fact that few bands – just two currently – are in the vicinity of the water catchment. But the forage there is less and lower quality, which probably plays a big part, even though that’s the only fresh water available. The southern horses are ranging more now since the pond behind Round Top was dug out two years ago and is holding more water. At least three bands stay in the southern WSA (southwest, south and southeast of Round Top) almost exclusively.

We have four Sand Wash Basin mares (no stallions directly from SWB) – one remaining from the 2001 introduction and the three that were introduced in 2008. People toss out the 150 number as minimum to retain genetic viability, but that’s an arbitrary, inflated number “to account for catastrophe.” The fenced, finite boundaries of Spring Creek Basin cannot support that many horses. Water sources are few and poor quality – and forage isn’t much better. As I understand it, a “grass study” was done in conjunction with a range EA in about 2003, which readjusted the number of cattle permitted (reduced the number of cattle allowed) and gave us a better idea of the forage resources available in the basin and the number of animals (horses, cattle, other wildlife) it can support. I’ve been told about a large number of horses that died during a past roundup when the herd population was around 130 horses and the stress of starvation and the roundup was too much for many of them. At the last roundup, in 2007, about 118 horses were in the basin – all extremely lean. Now, at a population of almost 90, the horses are in pretty good condition, but allowing the population to increase with the addition of foals is irresponsible management – both for the horses and for the range upon which they depend. Even the ponds that were recently dug out (five in the last two years) are very shallow in this dry year; at least five ponds are completely dry (including two that were dug out).

Spring Creek Basin and Sand Wash Basin horses are fairly close genetically, and because Spring Creek Basin simply cannot support an unlimited number of horses – and certainly not close to 150 – to have a viable herd at all requires periodic introductions. Horses from Spring Creek Basin apparently have been taken to Little Book Cliffs in the past – and genetic reports now say that Little Book Cliffs horses are most like Spring Creek Basin horses genetically – even though our last two introductions have been from Sand Wash Basin. (I think at least two of the stallions came from Wyoming – Miguel and Mr. Ed? Seems to me I remember hearing that Spook came from Little Book Cliffs.)

To measure genetic viability, two questions must be asked: Do they breed, and do the offspring survive. If yes and yes, the herd is genetically viable – which is generally classified as “enough horses to survive in perpetuity.” To ensure genetic viability and minimum inbreeding, periodic introductions in a herd this size are going to be necessary. In a perfect world, our Spring Creek Basin mustangs would trace genetically pure and unaltered to the Disappointment Valley pioneers’ horses and outlaw horses and Indian ponies (how “pure” is that anyway?)… but it’s our responsibility now to protect the mustangs that currently roam Spring Creek Basin.

Science has made an impact here, as in some other places, and we’re continuing to press for science-based management – particularly in the form of fertility control with native PZP. Old-school “management” – particularly of the “round ’em up and remove the ‘excess'” type that has been used the last 40 years – is simply unacceptable. Changes are here – we haven’t set precedent, we’re following it (see Little Book Cliffs, Pryor Mountain, McCullough Peaks …).

I hope this answers your questions, and I look forward to talking with you.

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