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The Bureau of Land Management favors using feed and water to trap wild horses in the Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, according to the preliminary environmental assessment the agency issued at the end of July.

The agency’s document does not constitute an actual proposal to remove wild horses from the herd management area at this time, but instead examines how baiting the horses into temporary enclosures for removal from the range might help maintain sustainable rangeland, should a removal become necessary.

The agency in the document favored such bait and/or water trapping over helicopter roundups that had been conducted in the past, to much controversy.

“The proposed action is needed because at such time in the future when BLM determines there are excess wild horses present on the range … horse-gathering needs to occur in order to maintain wild horse populations in balance with the ecosystem,” the agency’s document states.

The preliminary environmental assessment, or EA, is proactive and the first of its kind, Spring Creek Basin herd activist TJ Holmes said Wednesday, referring to information from Connie Clementson, field office manager at the BLM’s Tres Rios Field Office.

Holmes, with Kathryn Wilder, wrote the bait-trapping proposal and submitted it to the Tres Rio Office, along with the Disappointment Wild Bunch Partners.

This, Holmes said, was “the culmination of years of working toward making bait-trapping the preferred method of gathering and removing horses when needed — to move away from helicopters.”

Holmes credited partnerships as well as herd manager Mike Jensen and Clementson.

“This EA shows our strong BLM/advocate partnership for the benefit of Spring Creek Basin’s mustangs,” Holmes said.

No roundup is imminent, she stressed, but the EA demonstrates the local BLM didn’t want to wait until such action was necessary.

Instead, Holmes said, it took the partners’ plan and opened a scoping period for public comments, which in turn indicated support for bait-trapping instead of helicopters — if and when a roundup becomes necessary.

The BLM is now seeking comments on the newly released EA.

The Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area is located in Disappointment Valley, roughly between Norwood and Egnar.

The BLM will use the information in the EA document to determine whether to use bait and/or water trapping as the preferred method for removing wild horses from the Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, if removal becomes necessary. The EA and subsequent decision will be used to guide future roundups over the next 10 years.

Per July’s preliminary document, a 1994 analysis found the appropriate management level for the herd is between 35 and 65 horses, plus or minus 10 percent; this plan allows for “removal actions” when the population is nearing 65, or when resource conditions or animal health requires removal.

The July preliminary EA considered such issues as harm or stress to the horses under proposed gathering methods; how the Spring Creek Basin population might affect rangeland health standards within the management area, and how it might affect wilderness study areas and lands with wilderness characteristics.

The document lists three alternatives: The BLM- preferred alternative for bait and water trapping; an alternative for helicopter roundups and, lastly, a “no- action” alternative.

The BLM does not favor taking no action, stating in the document that would lead to long-term deterioration of the herd, because of declining resources for the mustangs.

Bait- and water-trap methods as detailed in the EA document entail using feed or water to lure bands of horses or individual animals into quarter-acre sites closed off with removable livestock panels.

Under the bait method, the temporary enclosures’ gates would be closed remotely once an animal enters.

The water-trap method entails placing water inside a temporary enclosure, which initially would have wide openings to attract the horses and allow them to acclimate instead of becoming wary. Gradually, the openings in the panels would be reduced to the point of only having a single gate or panel; at that point, the structure could also be closed remotely.

The BLM found in the assessment bait and water trapping would provide greater flexibility in instances when roundups are necessary; further, informed volunteers could also help out, which would save money.

Although mustangs could become distressed upon being closed in, or injured when striking against the panels, the risk of death is low, per the document.

Population-wide impacts could occur immediately after such roundups, but in the long run, the herd’s population could be maintained at healthy levels, with fewer animals competing for scarce resources.

If a roundup is ever called for, horses removed from the range would go to a BLM-approved facility and be prepared for adoption. Those that do not meet requirements for adopt would go to a long-term hold facility.

The Spring Creek Basin herd hasn’t been subject to a roundup since 2011, when 60 were gathered and 50 removed. This roundup was achieved by using a helicopter to herd the mustangs into trap sites.

“Because of our partnership, which includes the use of fertility-control vaccine PZP, we’re able to manage our herd population to grow slowly,” Holmes said.

“We haven’t had a roundup since 2011, and no roundup is on the horizon. That’s good in general, and even in a terrible drought year like this one, our mustangs are still doing well because they have the resources — range and water — to support them.

“We are very grateful to work with Mike (Jensen) and our BLM partners to keep our Spring Creek Basin mustangs, and the range on which they depend, healthy.”

The BLM is accepting comments on the preliminary EA until Aug. 27.

These may be sent to: BLM Tres Rios Field Office, Attention: Bait Gathers Preliminary EA, 29211 Highway 184, Dolores, CO 81323.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

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