by Brittany Leigh Wallace
The Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary has a model worth following. We have been working directly with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to come up with a long term plan to manage the wild horse population in the Sand Wash Herd Management Area (HMA).
This Fall, a bait and trap gather led by BLM Wild Horse and Burro Specialist, Ben Smith, began in Northwest Colorado. This style of gathering horses is a low stress, low-invasive way to collect horses in order to administer fertility control treatments to the mares and remove selected horses. The Sand Wash Advocate Team (SWAT), an on-the-range program of GEMS, has been working closely with the BLM on this gather, assisting with gather and removal criteria, as well as horse identification and fertility control administration. The horses removed from the HMA will be available for public adoption and/or placed in our Sanctuary Training and Adoption Program.
Currently, Sand Wash has approximately twice the amount of wild horses on the land than the Appropriate Management Level (AML). This number of horses is determined by a BLM land assessment where wildlife, livestock, native plants, forage, annual precipitation and water sources are all considered. The soft plan for the next four years is to gather 50 young horses, between the ages of 1-4 years old from the land per year, until the herd is closer to the desired population. The use of fertility control, in combination with the smaller scale gathers, will bring the herd population back to it’s AML. When this is achieved, the use of fertility control will be the main mode of herd population management. This working model means leaving gathers and stacking horses in holding facilities as a thing of the past, saving taxpayers millions of dollars per year.
The contractor hired by the BLM to orchestrate the bait and trap gather is Cattoor Livestock Roundup. SWAT acknowledges that they are very professional to work with and have been very successful utilizing bait and trap as a mode of gathering wild horses from the range. The contractor has previous experience working with bait and trap gathers therefore making this as non-traumatic for the wild horses as possible.
Stella Trueblood, SWAT Field Manager and Connie Wagner, SWAT Darter have been out at the trap sites for the majority of the gather, which has lasted for approximately 1 ½ months. They overlook our main goals in participating in the bait and trap gather which are to represent the wild ones, to oversee that humane treatment is being followed by Cattoor Livestock Roundup, to identify the individual horses and assist in fertility control treatments as needed. Identification is used to target horses within a certain age group, as well as, to protect those that are the end of their lineage to keep genetic diversity of the Sand Wash Herd. They simply wish to be a voice for the wild ones. The SWAT Facebook page has been updated every evening to reassure all of those who are supporting the gather from afar.
All of the horses that have been gathered so far have made it safely to the Canon City BLM Holding Facility. After inoculations, gelding and freeze-branding, the Sand Wash Basin horses will begin to become available for adoption through both GEMS and at local adoption events in Colorado. More information will be provided on adoption locations and times once they are confirmed. Follow the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary on Facebook for current updates.
With the ambition of creating a better future for all wild horses and burros, the Great Escape has an open invitation to ask about their working model to support the wild ones. For more information please visit www.greatescapemustangs.org.